There has been a lot on my heart lately... April being Autism Awareness Month, Easter approaching, and of course my dad. And the many dreams I keep having about him. Almost every night.
The thing that has been on my heart even stronger lately, and why I feel led to write this week, is the one thing that has been ever constant and powerful over my life: God. His Grace. His Timing. It's more than my heart can process or understand. I wish I could write God a thank you letter for all He has done in my life. All He did in my life prior to my dad's passing...and the amazing love He brought into my life immediately following.
Growing up, it was apparent that I had a passion for teaching. I was always creating some sort of classroom and worksheets at home...my brother and sister being my students. Marissa being the easy student, and Colin being the...challenging student.
I also had a passion for the medical field...my favorite thing to do when I got home from high school was make a bowl of popcorn and turn on the Discovery Health Channel (I know my mom remembers this well).
When I graduated high school, I immediately began my college education studying nursing.
It didn't take long for me to realize that it wasn't for me. To be honest, I didn't know what I wanted to do. It was stressful. But even then I believed that I was supposed to trust in God's timing.
During the summer of 2009, I had my experience teaching ESL to Muslim women in Hamtramck. Soon after I changed my college major to elementary education with a major in math and a minor in language arts. This is where I felt God leading me, although I wasn't totally sold on it.
Then the big day came for me to graduate from college in May of 2013. My parents were so happy. And I was ready to begin looking for a job as a middle school math teacher.
The teaching market was tough though, and I began to feel discouraged. I questioned if I had made the right career move.
Fast forward a month into a new school year, and I began subbing in the Rochester school district. My friend was/is a teacher at an elementary school there, so when a sub job popped up at Hamlin, I took it.
Because of the subbing experience, I found myself falling totally in love with working with children with autism. It surprised me how much I loved it actually. It was a natural fit.
I never had any intention of beginning grad school as soon as I did, but I listened to my heart and this new passion and ran with it. I applied to a master's program and began taking graduate courses the summer of 2014.
Even though I knew what I wanted to do with my life, career-wise, I still hit some road bumps along the way. I was rejected a lot (both in the work field and by men). But deep down inside, I held tight to the dream and vision of being able to teach in Rochester as a teacher of students with autism. It was also during this time that my dad and I began to make peace, so he began to reach out to me more.
At the time I had this conversation with my dad in May of 2015, something inside me told me that I needed to save it. It was so special to feel my dad wanting to connect with me and encourage me along the way.
Before I knew it a year and a half went by...
September 13th, 2016: The day my dad found out his cancer was growing again.
September 17th, 2016: The night I had my first date with Jared (after not seeing him in almost 5 years).
September 18th, 2016: The day I got a call from the Director of Special Education for Rochester Schools saying they had a potential job opening for an elementary ASD teacher. They asked if I would come in for an interview the following day.
I had my interview in Rochester on September 19th. Had my follow up interview on September 26th. Signed my contract with them on September 27th. And started teaching in my very own classroom for students with autism on September 30th.
My dad lived long enough to see me get my dream job. He left this world just 5 short weeks later.
He always wanted the best for me. Through all the pain, of this I am sure. He always wanted me to be happy and successful. He wanted for me and believed I would get my dream job someday and find happiness with a man who could take care of and love me.
Although my dad never got to meet Jared, he did hear about him. When my dad was in the hospital for his biopsy on November 4th, the Friday before he passed away, I told him about how I had a date the next night with a good man that I really got along with well.
I think my dad's prayers for my life were all answered in just the right time so he could go in peace knowing that I was taken care of, loved, and would be loved.
Good things take time.
I started seeing my therapist again...about every 3 weeks. It makes me feel better knowing I have someone to check in with as I walk through the different stages of grief.
I have dealt with a mixture of emotions lately...including anger, disappointment, and frustration. Not just with my dad, but with other people in my life. Not understanding why things had to be the way they were. Not understanding why it didn't always feel like my dad could protect me. Feeling abandoned by the fact that he is gone now...forever.
I don't like feeling those emotions though. Especially when everything is done and over with. Maybe that's why some emotions are beginning to surface. Because he's gone. I can't just text or call him to get answers. I can't ask him why he did or didn't do certain things.
In fact, one day I spent 2 hours in tears feeling totally confused and forgotten by him. And it hurt. Especially since I spent so much time the week he passed away trying to really be there for him and plan everything for his visitation and funeral so that it was perfect. Perfect for him and perfect for everyone to remember my dad by.
So I let myself feel the anger and pain. It hurt to let myself go there in my heart. It felt wrong. But I trusted that it was another level of grief. And it was okay.
After crying for about any hour at my boyfriend's, I thought to get up out of bed and do some dishes.
When Jared got home, I was at the sink trying to hold back tears until I couldn't anymore. He pulled me away and just held me. I told him some things made me wonder if my dad ever loved me. Jared just kissed me and reminded me of how much he loves me. I let myself cry it out. But kept in mind how truly blessed I am. My dad may not have provided for me in all the ways that I had hoped. But God did. God provided a thousand times over. More than.
Remembering this helped my heart to soften--softening the pain I had been experiencing. I let myself feel the anger and disappointment. And thus learned to go to new levels of forgiveness with with my dad in my heart.
As I started to forgive my dad at an even deeper level than before, I began remembering the moments when he did come through.
I remember being in middle school (6th or 7th grade), and I was set on becoming an architect or interior designer. I bought a bunch of magazines with home plans in them and began doing my own home designs and layouts.
One day, my dad decided to take me out to buy my very own drafting board and stencils to trace in doors, appliances, and furniture. I also needed a specific kind of manila paper for my drafting class. We searched high and low until we found just the right paper. In that moment, my dad wanted to make sure I was taken care of and provided for.
I also remember back to about 4/5 years ago being a struggling college student trying to make her way through student teaching. Any teacher can relate to that time of paying for 12 credit hours to teach full time. Through student teaching, I faithfully worked every Saturday at Beaumont. But it wasn't enough to get by at the time. I shared my financial struggles with my dad. And though he was going through his own, he still offered to help me out with gas. So ever so often when I would see him at work, he would give me whatever money he could to make sure I had a full tank of gas when I needed it.
Remembering this honestly brings tears to my eyes.
Even though he couldn't always emotionally provide for me in the ways that I needed, I know he did his best. And through the grief, that brings me comfort.
So don't be afraid to experience all the different stages of grief. It just might help you to reach new levels of forgiveness and healing. And that will make it all worth it.
As an aside, today I had the courage to revisit Troy Beaumont again for the first time since the night my dad passed away. I was there visiting a relative who happened to be in the same unit my dad passed away in, who was also recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
But I did it. I had the courage to visit her. And the courage to walk by dad's hospital room.
Although it was hard being there today and not being able to visit him at work, I am continuing to trust that God's grace and love are sufficient. And maybe my dad was even there with me today.
The seasons this year have been reflective of my mood. But time and time again, I have always held to the hope that spring always comes. Even if it comes later than we are hoping...it always comes. And because spring is sure to come every year, we can trust that it will come again. Always.
I have found in my life that the darkest winters tend to produce the most beautiful and vibrant of springs. It could be the anticipation of brighter days. Or it could be that all the tilling of the soil is making way for something beautiful to grow. But through the storms, we are made stronger...if we allow it. We may be weathered, but we are not broken.
Romans 5:3 says, "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
My pastor shared and talked about this verse at church yesterday. It is one that has always spoken to me.
Kenneth shared that he could understand how suffering produces perseverance and how perseverance produces character. But how can character produce hope? Now that really got me thinking. About myself and my own life. How has character produced hope in my life?
And of course, the answer points straight to the cross: Christ. When we draw near to Christ in our sufferings and allow our sufferings to strengthen us, we naturally grow closer to Him. And in clinging to Christ, we cling to Hope itself. Christ is Hope. And Christ has the ability to strengthen the character of a person and ignite a new kind of hope and passion. The strengthening in character strengthens the confidence in hope. A character built on Christ, and a hope centered in Christ.
A hope that spring always comes.
Christ always comes.
The past few weeks have been hard.
I had to let go of the one thing I had of my dad that I could keep with me.
And this is what I was left with:
The one thing that has remained unchanging all my life. From the beginning of my life until now. From the beginning of time to the end of time.
Time has only strengthened my faith as it continues to prove itself to be a constant. It is always there...Christ is always there. Always faithful. Always steady. Always sure. Never changing. Always ready to bring life and healing and wholeness. The creator of winters and the creator of springs. Maybe Christ even allows the storms and winters into our lives so that He can use those seasons to draw us closer to Him as we wait for spring.
Spring always comes. And for some of us, it is already here.
And the storms of this life will pass, and all will be well. Our troubles here are momentary. Which make the moments of joy momentary too. That is why we should live each and every moment to its fullest...through good times and bad. In sickness, and in health.
When I was growing up, I always had this idea for myself. That I would go to college. Date a little bit. Find my soulmate at a fairly young age. Be married by 25. And then start having a family before 30.
And then life happens. Trauma happens. And things don't always go the way you plan. At first you're upset and discouraged. But eventually, in time, you learn that it's okay. You accept what is, trusting the hope that God truly is working things out for your good.
Going through trauma, but then coming out stronger and using it to grow you, I believe, also gives you a stronger capacity for love.
I have known love in my life. Through family and friends, yes. But also through relationships. Each relationship I felt like I was able to give more than the last. The years shaping me and my heart... changing my perspective and appreciation for the good things.
I'm 26 now, which is still relatively young. I remember turning 25 and feeling like I had grown significantly. I got through another heartache. I learned to let go of my timeline. I felt stronger than ever. I somehow knew I was on the edge of a turning point in my life. I just couldn't pinpoint what.
Then I went through my 26th year. Some days I felt like I was crawling. But I also felt in my heart that surrendering daily the things I couldn't control were helping me grow to a new level of confidence, self love, and living in the present.
My 26th and 27th years are the ones that have sharpened me the most in this life so far. I was put through the ringer last year watching my dad succumb to cancer. Month by month. Day by day. I have been pushed to my limits emotionally and spiritually, but have come out stronger for it.
I remember questioning a lot in my life though. Especially about why things didn't work out with the men I dated in the past. I wondered what was wrong with me. I questioned my worth. We all struggle with thoughts like that when relationships don't work out.
Then it began to all make sense to me. I couldn't let real love into my heart without first making peace with my dad. And as I was making that peace with him and within my heart his last few days on earth in early November...loving and letting go...Jared stood by me.
And for the first time in my life I was free to love. Really love. In the deepest, purest, yet simplest of ways. I was stronger than I had ever been with an even greater capacity for love. Without the weight of tension I felt with my dad. I don't even mean tension within mine and my dad's relationship (though most of my life that was the case), but the tension of knowing that he was always in pain. The pain I carried knowing he was in pain. Always suffering. All the time. And that there was nothing I could do about it. But in his death, his pain finally left him. Every ounce of it. Forever. His soul was set free from the burdens of this life, which in turn, freed my soul from constant worry for him.
I believe with my whole heart that God saved Jared for this very specific time in my life. A time when I could give the most of myself, freely and genuinely. No burdens or barriers.
What I thought was me being let down in the past by failed relationships was really God's way of making His perfect plan known, without me knowing what that plan would even entail. God, in all His Grace and Mercy, saved a good man for the very time in my life (that only He could know) when my heart would finally be healed, after 26 years of heartache and loss.
For the first time in my life, I can move forward in love, with peace. Knowing how important it is to be present. Appreciating all the blessings along the way.
Thankful to serve a God who replenishes what was lost a thousand times over.
I've posted about this before, and everyone knows that it is true; grief comes in waves. Lately, I have been in that stage of transitioning back to normal. Or rather, finding a new normal.
Even though my dad and I didn't see each other as often as I would have liked, there was still that peace of knowing he was there, and that there was still time for more. I find myself grieving more of what wasn't than what was. I miss him so much.
I have been getting by okay...as best as I can, and I feel confident of that.
I recently saw my therapist, and she gave me a piece of paper with strategies on how to deal with grief. I was pleased to find that I have been doing everything that was listed.
Then as I was going through my own Instagram account last night, I was looking at photos I have posted recently - everything symbolic of my healing process. From there, I started thinking about how I have been dealing with my grief, and thought I would pass along the information to all of you. :) God has been so good and strong in my life.
Spend quality time with people who love and inspire you.
It has been so healing to be around people who love and inspire me. People who I can be myself around and share my faith, grief, and heart with. People who accept me and also challenge me in a good way. It just makes me come alive and want to strive for more.
I have been enjoying spending time with my good friends Jon and Charlotte, and their daughter Liza. Every week I sit with them at church, and we worship the Lord together. They are preparing to embark on a trip to the Middle East come summer, and their faith and passion inspire me so much. Time with them always feels good for my soul.
My mentor, Leslie, has also been a huge blessing during this time. She has been a big part of my life for almost 6 years now. She has seen me through so much. Many dark times, but also many moments of joy and triumph. She has been constant in prayer for my life, guiding me when I need it most. She lives on a farm in Ortonville and is currently caring for her 2 foster daughters, who are 9 months old and 2 and a half. So much love from and for them.
Then there is my boyfriend, Jared. Every day I am so inspired by his work ethic and passion for life. He gets things done and always finds joy in the process. He makes me feel included and loved. The beautiful thing is that he seems to love me without making it feel or seem like "work" for him. He just does it. Always taking care of me in big ways and small...even when we were both sick this weekend (thanks for the Pedialyte, babe!).
I also find myself calling my mom way more often than before (which was still often). But it has been important for my healing to stay connected to her. She is always there to answer any call, even when I don't even have anything to say.
I could go on and on about all the love from family and friends, but I will stop there for now. :)
Take care of your body and get that workout in!
When you are grieving, it can seem almost impossible to want to make the effort to take care of yourself. For me though, it has been quite the opposite.
I started to find a passion for living a more active and healthy lifestyle around the summer of 2014 through boxing and yoga. Then last winter (almost a year ago to be exact) I found a workout program (BBG/Sweat with Kayla circuit training + cardio) that worked for my schedule and also challenged me mentally and physically (I will most likely write a post about this at a later date).
But oh man! Whether it is just 15 minutes or an hour, it has been so good to get that blood flowing and my muscles moving. It's amazing to me that I can simultaneously release stress and toxins while also getting physically stronger in the process. Whaaat?!
Seriously, even if you feel short on time, get that workout in! You will feel so much better when you do and won't regret it.
I also received my yoga instructor certification last year - my goal is to begin to hosting classes soon, so stay tuned!
Find healthy ways to process your grief.
For me, seeing my therapist when I need to and also starting this blog have been HUGE!
Whether it is blogging, journaling, or sharing your journey with someone you look up to, it is so important to share your pain...whatever that may look like. Otherwise it can just sit and fester. It will eventually come out one way or another.
You also don't want to be in denial of your grief and just not deal with it at all. Because guess what? IT IS STILL THERE. Let it in. Feel it. Let it out. Repeat.
I know it can sometimes be scary to reach out to somebody, let alone a therapist, but it will do wonders for your soul and healing process. If you need encouragement in that area, don't hesitate to reach out to me!
Get plugged in to your faith.
I have always, in some way, felt the Holy Spirit on my heart. The peace in the storm. The light in the darkness.
After going to a megachurch and a community church, I finally found rest in a little charismatic episcopal church called Holy Redeemer. I didn't know what an asset this church would be to my spiritual growth and healing process when I first began attending last year. I never could have foreseen that my dad's funeral service would be held there, leaving standing room only.
But to know I am not alone in my struggles and that there is a greater purpose to life, even and especially in human suffering, has brought me a peace that I can't even describe. To know that there is one Who is fighting for our souls and that my dad's soul is at rest brings me a peace I can't describe. The thought that I will be reunited with my dad in Heaven and that he will be healed also brings me a peace that I can't describe.
You are not alone in your suffering. And even if you were the last person on earth, you still would not be alone in your suffering.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7
Unwind/Spend quality alone time.
After a long day of work, I love nothing more than 1 of 2 options: drinking that hot cup of coffee and relaxing...or cleaning!
Unwinding looks different for everybody. Some days, it feels absolutely right to throw on that pair of sweat pants and fuzzy socks and curl up on the couch with a fluffy blanket, coffee, and Netflix. And that is okay!
Other days, it feels amazing to throw on yoga pants and a sports bra and clean the house. That is okay too! Whatever you need to do to unwind is okay! It is healthy as you grieve to do things that make you feel productive. It is also just as healthy (at times) to sit and do nothing. It is all about balance. :)
The important thing is to make sure that you are taking steps in your life to move forward. Grief is hard, but you don't want to sit in it forever. It is good to reflect on the past, but you don't want to stay there and miss out on the amazing things ahead of you. Life is calling you forward, and God wants you to heal.
Even if you aren't struggling with or through grief, these are all healthy and important things to do anyway.
If you need any encouragement or tips on dealing with grief, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. You are not alone. Xo.
"Maybe my story will also be one not only of redemption and healing, but that we don't always need to have the answers. Jesus is enough." - 5/21/15
During the spring of 2009, I spent 5 days down in Detroit doing mission work. I spent those 5 days sleeping in the basement of a church and working closely with a group of college students. We went through different neighborhoods, went to a therapy session to spend time with recovering addicts, and spent an entire day or 2 clearing out the inside of a house in Hamtramck that had been burned down.
That house had been purchased with the hope of being remodeled and restored to house women who taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to the women of the Muslim community in Hamtramck.
The last few hours we spent working on the house, the owners stopped by and asked if anyone was interested in teaching ESL that summer. Completely covered in ash and soot, I said, "yes."
Deep down, I didn't want to. But I knew I had to and that it would be good for me to be immersed in a culture totally different from my own.
So a few months later, there I stood, in the upper flat of a Hamtramck home, surrounded by women completely covered in black from head to toe, only speaking Arabic.
I had also dressed extremely modestly to be respectful of their culture and show them that I too was submitted to God.
I was so nervous my first day, but then it eventually came naturally to me. Teaching. I had finally found my passion through the unlikeliest of experiences.
During the fall of 2009, I taught math and science to the women who more advanced in their English and looking to obtain their GED. It was then that I got a vision that I wanted to fix up the school.
So I acted on that vision. Pulled the funds and people together. And spent 2 days working to fix up this school that I felt so passionately about. We worked on that place from top to bottom, putting in new light fixtures, a ceiling fan, painting the walls, replacing tiles. Cleaning...you name it, we did it. I was so proud. I was only 19 at that time.
Because of all my work in Hamtramck with the Muslim community that year, I was invited to be 1 of 5 leaders on an upcoming trip to the Mideast in June of 2010.
Jersualem, Israel. The place I arrived broken and left whole. The place that began to give my life more meaning...opening my eyes to the bigger picture. The Bible coming to life.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was in so much pain at this point in my life. I struggled to see any hope for my current situation. I was grieving the loss of my childhood family. I was struggling to accept another divorce in my life. It was so hard not having control over so much in my life. It was hard giving up the control that I thought I had.
I arrived in Israel at the Tel Aviv airport on June 19th, 2010. I was no more than 100 pounds. I was anxious and depressed. I was angry and confused. I was wanting desperately to create space in my heart to do some soul searching, but my heart was cluttered by all the pain I was experiencing. I didn't even know where to start. But I knew I wanted to be healed.
I journaled a lot on this trip from the rooftop of the hostel I stayed at in Jerusalem, just outside the walls of Old Jerusalem.
I came looking for answers. Would I get them? How would God work in my life?
At every prayer site we went to, which were many, I would pray for healing for my family. Would it come?
The turning point on that trip for me came when I worked up the courage to share my story with the other leaders on that trip. Up until that point, I had kept my pain to myself. It was such a personal thing that I was struggling with, that it made me nervous to even think to invite anyone else into my pain.
We took a bus that night to the top of the Mount of Olives. We sat on stone benches that overlooked Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock, the city walls...it was so surreal.
We all shared stories about where we were at in our faith. I waited to go last.
When it was my turn to share, I told them that I was honestly struggling and struggling to see any hope. I shared what had been going on at home with my mom and stepdad. I shared my grief, and I asked for prayers. I told them that I felt it on my heart that God wanted me to draw close to Him and to get to know Him through this season. I don't know why, but that is what I felt in that moment. And it felt right.
In sharing my pain, it helped alleviate some of the weight I had been experiencing. I wasn't alone. And the people who had made the long journey overseas with me were reflections of God's desire for me to draw in community with people during this time.
After I shared, the group prayed over me. I cried. Then one of the leaders started to play his guitar. We sang songs of worship to God while overlooking the Holy City. The city lighting up the nighttime sky.
It was possible to praise God while grieving? That was an idea that was totally foreign to me up until this point. But what would ultimately bring me peace in the storm.
I made a deal with myself that night at the Mount of Olives that I would stop regularly taking things at night to help me sleep. And that instead I would read my Bible more. If all else, I knew I wanted that much...to draw close to God. That was what He was asking of me. And I was ready to listen.
I came to Jerusalem hoping for a solution for my pain. Hoping for answers. Hoping for a miracle.
Did that miracle come? Did I get the answers I was looking for?
The answer is yes. What I found on that trip was God putting on my heart the truth that He is enough. Not only was He enough for me then, but that He would be enough for my future too. A lesson I wouldn't fully grasp until my dad got sick, 6 years later.
Yes, my biological parents had divorced, and I have no memories of them together. Yes, I had a dad who was wounded my whole life and needed help. And yes, my healthy parents that gave me a stable family did end up divorcing too.
But from June 2010 on, I learned to cling to the hope that through the brokenness in my life, that I served a God who was a provider of all things Good. A God who restores and makes all things new.
I learned that even though I could not control my circumstances and the hurt that surrounded me, I could control my heart and the direction that I wanted my life to go in.
I wanted to live a life of praise for the One thing who was unchanging before time and Who would continue to be for the rest of my life and for eternity. The One who would be unchanging through tough breakups, challenging therapy sessions, job rejections...and the One who stood unchanging when I got the phone call from my dad the he had terminal cancer.
Through the heartache and grief, there is and will always be more. I even want to believe that there is a purpose for my pain. Although God didn't create all the trials in my life, I do believe that He is using them to give me the courage to write and give people hope that there is One who heals.
He continues to pour is His Grace abundantly over my life. And I can promise that He is doing the same for you.
The first song we sang at the Mount of Olives - How He Loves by Crowder
From the beginning of time to the end of the time, the Creator of the Universe moves. He was when there was nothing, and He will be when there is nothing. The Alpha and the Omega. A God of Love. A God of Grace. A God who loves creation and everyone and everything in it. All things a reflection of His infinite and incomprehensible Glory. Each living thing representing a piece of Him.
I was asked some challenging questions the other night...about God. About creation. There being an ultimate purpose to life. How I know that there is. And it got me thinking...how do I know? How can I verbally express something that I not only feel, but have always felt? That feeling of knowing even in moments when I felt most alone, that I really wasn't alone. That even if I was all by myself with an aching heart, that there was something and someone so much greater than me always present. Always close. Always listening.
Sadly though, I didn't always trust that "voice" when I heard it. That peace that not only would things be okay, but that I was okay and served a God who was working things out and had a plan for my life. It was how He picked me up when I was down that I felt that redemption and grace over my life. As time went on, He continued to give me more and more reasons to trust Him.
I made the decision at 18, in the summer of 2008, that I wanted to get re-baptized as an adult through my church at the time, Kensington. It was a beautiful evening of brightly painted skies at Stony Creek Park. I had found a deeper faith, and I was ready to take that plunge to continue serving a life of faithfulness to our Lord.
And less than a month later, at the start of my freshman year of college, I dove head first into the beginning of the darkest season of my life. I had known many heartbreaks from my earliest memories, growing up with divorced parents and a dad who needed help. But the thing that tore me apart the most (at that point in my life) was the divorce between my mom and stepdad that began when I was 18.
I had a happy childhood with my mom and Todd (my stepdad). We took family vacations every year. I had a brother and a sister. A dad who worked full time, who came home to delicious home cooked meals every evening prepared by mom. We always hung out as a family after dinner. We played games. We watched movies. Every Friday or Saturday we did our chores. Life with my mom and stepdad was normal. And growing up, it had become my saving grace, unbeknownst to me.
And then after 14 years of marriage, they decided it was time to part ways.
My brain could not mentally process or accept this. My stable family and safe place was no longer stable and safe? What?
Growing up going back and forth between my mom's and dad's homes was my normal. It was all I had ever known. I accepted that my parents weren't and would never be together. As I got older, new challenges arose with my dad, and I began to find more and more peace in the stability that living with my mom and Todd had brought. Even though my biological parents were divorced, I imagined myself years down the road, bringing my kids over to my mom and Todd's house. I wanted my future children to be able to experience a taste of the happy parts of my childhood. I was looking forward to normal things, like family holidays together. I had even imagined what it would be like to combine family functions and have my dad Kevin and his family take part in things with my mom and Todd.
But then to lose another family unit was more than my 18/19 year old brain could comprehend.
I grieved a lot. I grieved not only the loss of the marriage between my mom and Todd, but the loss of my childhood family that I loved so much, and the loss of dreams and what I had hoped would come down the road. I just couldn't accept it. My life took a downward spiral as I struggled to cope with the loss.
To gain some control in my life, I began to work out excessively and cut my calorie intake to less than 1,000 calories/day. I couldn't control the loss of my childhood family, but I could control how I took (or didn't take) care of my body. I lost 20 pounds in just a few months. Which was a lot for me, especially considering my normal weight was around 115-120 lbs. It got to the point where the only clothes that fit me were dresses.
Also during this time, I experienced extreme anxiety and found myself struggling to fall asleep almost every night. My thoughts would race and race all night. Most nights I would end up crying myself to sleep. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken. I felt so alone.
I knew that God was there. But I was angry. I was so confused. How would this happen?? How could this happen? I felt the spark going out inside me.
I began taking pills every night to help me fall asleep. I basically took whatever I could find and in varying quantities. Benadryl. Motrin. Migraine medication. Anxiety medication. I even began misusing Vicodin when I had been given a prescription when I had my wisdom teeth extracted. I just wanted something to take the pain away.
I basically turned to everything but God during this time. God obviously had no control over my life. But I did. Or so I thought.
I guess His timing was interesting, because although I was at the absolute lowest point in my life to date, I was also getting ready to make a trip overseas to Israel. The Holy Land. The trip that changed my life and brought me out of the sea I was drowning in.
(To he continued...)
No matter where you're at in life right now, I want you to know that you're okay...and everything will be okay...one way or another.
I've been struggling lately to find inspiration for my blog. I find myself in the midst of the grief process where the shock has passed, and I feel sad a lot. Some days I don't really feel like doing much or talking to anyone. Sometimes I even find myself feeling slightly guilty about smiling or laughing about things when inside all I can think about is my dad and how our days together ended before they really even got started. But when joy comes in the moments of sadness, I let it come. It's what my dad would want. He would want me to keep busy, keep smiling, and continue moving on, in a healthy way.
Life is hard sometimes. I know I constantly speak of hope and the hope of our Savior, which is all true...but life just downright sucks sometimes. And it's okay to be and feel sad. It's okay to feel the grief you may be experiencing. You will never be able to let it go if you don't let it wash over you. Feel the pain. Cry when you need to. Listen to that song a little longer that makes you feel close to that loved one...
It's the strangest thing, but I find myself getting the most emotional when I am in my car driving somewhere. Sometimes it is a song. Usually one from the mid-late 90s that would be playing on the radio during the drive to my dad's house when he would pick me up for the weekends.
I can't tell you the relief I felt as a little girl to be with my dad again after not seeing him for days. Our first moments of reconnecting would be in the car. With the radio on.
Growing up with divorced parents came with it's fair share of struggles. Some I didn't even realize until my adult years, along with years of introspection that came in the form of books, church, mentorship, and therapy.
But one thing that has never been far from my thoughts about my dad is how eagerly I would wait for him to come pick me up as a little girl. I would sit in the window of the living room of my old house in Sterling Heights...and wait. Wait for his car to come down the street. And wait for him to pull up the driveway.
I was always so afraid that if I didn't run outside the second he got to my mom's house that he would leave.
After years of therapy though, I realized in my early 20s, that inside, I was still that little girl in the window waiting for her dad to pick her up on the weekends. I spent my whole life waiting for him to come through and really pursue me.
I think that goes back to one of God's very beautiful and unique designs for men--to be the leaders, protectors, and providers. Not just within the marriage relationship, but within the relationship between fathers and daughters. It can be such a blessing for a girl to have a dad who leads, pursues, and protects...someone who exudes strength, and with that, the peace that everything is taken care of. On the flip side, it can also be damaging to have a father who struggles with those things.
I looked up to my dad very much. And the closest and most pursued I felt by him were within those moments following him picking me up from school, my house, or dance class. The moments when he came through. The moments that regardless of how our time would be spent on the weekends, that in those moments, he was intentional about spending time with me.
I would sit in the passenger seat of his car and feel loved.
And then as an adult, I would spend quite a bit of time in the car on my way to see him. Usually at work, to bring him food for dinner when he worked his midnight shifts at the hospital. I wanted him to feel loved and taken care of by me.
I think about the time spent in the car on the way to the hospital during his last days, not knowing when would be our last. I kept having dreams about him dying during those few days. If I wasn't with him, I would be constantly checking my phone in a panic...not knowing.
I know I refer a lot to the time I spent at his bedside in the hospital. That time was so profound for our relationship. Up until that moment, I was still that little girl waiting in the window for her dad to show up.
And then he did. He showed up in the form of an honest and sincere apology. And I eagerly got into the car for the very last time. I forgave.
That little girl who was so broken and torn is still a part of me, but she has been healed in so many ways.
Through the grief, God continues to show up and remind me of how deeply loved I am. So I let the grief in and let it wash over me like a cool rain. I feel the pain when it comes...and when the joy comes, I feel that too.
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." 1Peter 1:6-7
Life. The birth of a child. One of the most memorable moments of a parent's life.
June 1st 1990 was the day my journey on this earth began. A journey that began shaping me from day one. A journey filled with vast amounts of love...and also tremendous heartaches and losses. Even thinking back to my earliest memories of my parents' apartment together, I had no idea what would lie in store for me. The bumpy roads. And the amazing Grace of a faithful God.
I came into this world through unique circumstances. I would like to believe that God had a specific plan for my life from the beginning. Choosing me to be born at this specific time. And choosing Kevin and Maria specifically to be my parents.
Growing up having no real memories of my biological parents together made me never really miss them being together. Traveling back and forth between homes every other weekend was my normal. I was never even sad about my circumstances because that was all I knew.
The one constant though was this underlying tension of feeling the tension between my parents. I carried it with me for a majority of my life. A weight that I never knew was there until it was gone.
I loved my dad very much. I can't say that enough. Probably more than he knew. But it was because of that love that I began to grow distant from him as I got older.
It's hard to say when it really started, but growing up with an alcoholic parent took its toll on me. And honestly, it was not even until church yesterday (months after my dad's passing) that I finally accepted that alcoholism is a sickness and that my dad was sick the whole time I knew him. First emotionally and mentally. And then of course physically when he was diagnosed with cancer.
But again, growing up, I never knew how to put words to my emotions. I hated seeing my dad in pain all the time and knowing there was nothing I could do to help him.
To be honest, the happiest I remember seeing him was when he was at work as a nurse in CCU (and then later working in bed operations). He loved his job. He loved his coworkers. He was a leader and was very proud of his work. It was a relief to see him there. And looking back, what a blessing it was that my dad got me a job at Troy Beaumont so I could spend so much quality time with him in his environment. I always knew visiting my dad at work was special, but didn't realize how much until recently. That was how I spent about half my time with him since I graduated from high school in 2008.
October 2013. The beginning of my journey with my therapist, Renee.
My mentor, Leslie (who has been such a HUGE blessing in my life) recommended that I start seeing someone professionally after some extreme anxiety and panic attacks. Renee was her friend who was also in a Bible study with her, so I trusted that it would be a good fit.
What I thought would be a quick couple sessions turned into a weekly journey that lasted almost 2 years. I knew I needed help, but I didn't realize until months in that my anxiety stemmed from the abandonment I felt from my dad.
Let me clarify, my dad NEVER abandoned me. In fact, he always made sure to be a part of my life through everything. The abandonment I felt was emotional.
So I began working through my "abandonment" issues...the aftermath of having an unpredictable and emotionally unhealthy parent. He did the best he could. Of this I am certain. But he never received the help that he needed to experience real healing on this side of heaven. And because he never really faced his own issues, he remained to be emotionally distant and sarcastic most of the time.
I don't remember a specific timeline of when I began to work through different things in therapy. But I do remember one of the first things Renee encouraged me to do was to let myself feel the pain of not having a "normal" relationship with my dad. She told me that I would never be able to let go of the disappointment and pain if I did not first let myself experience it.
Sometime in high school I grew pretty numb to my dad after a series of bad experiences. Again, a new "normal". So to feel any emotion at all was painful. But I did.
I remember pulling off into a 7-Eleven parking lot one day in tears thinking about all the things that had happened between my dad and I...all the things I wanted in a healthy relationship with my dad, but probably would never experience. For the first time, I began grieving the loss of what I didn't have and accepting and grieving the fact that I would never have a normal and healthy relationship with my dad unless he got help.
I also learned to accept the fact that it was not up to me to help my dad. I could pray for him and spend time with him. But it was not my job to be his confidant and therapist.
Then, after a year and a half of therapy, my parents finally made amends to each other.
And what transpired from that was the one day, at age 24, that I finally, for the first time, grieved the loss of my parents' marriage to each other. I stared at this photo of my parents holding me as a baby wondering what it would have been like had they stayed together. Their marriage was brief. I know deep down they both wanted the best for me, despite their differences.
And shortly after that was when I finally realized that despite the ways my dad had hurt me, that he really did love me the best he could. He was a hurting man who never got real help for his issues. But he loved me deeply despite of them. I will never get the image out of my head of looking at my dad across the diner table over breakfast and understanding the reality of the situation. I had worked through the hurt enough that I was beginning to forgive. All the pain I had allowed myself to feel through therapy was finally leaving my heart (because I had finally allowed myself to experience it instead of suppressing it). You need to feel things in order to let them go sometimes. And in feeling and letting go, I was creating a space to learn how to love my dad more freely again, without the fear of being hurt.
And then months later, I finally felt ready to share with my dad the ways I felt hurt by him growing up. I was always so scared to be open about such things for fear of creating a bigger space between us. But I knew in that moment that in order for that space to heal, I needed to be open and vulnerable with him. And so I was.
We cried together, sitting side by side on the front porch of his house. He kept saying over and over that he didn't want to go to the grave thinking that I thought he was a bad person. I kept telling him I didn't think that. I told him that I worked through a lot with Renee in therapy and that I wasn't upset anymore and that I had learned to let go of a lot. I'm not sure he believed me, but that is what I felt.
Then he was diagnosed with cancer 2 months later.
November 8th, 2016 was our last day together. A day I replay in my head several times a day...the way he looked as I wiped blood off his mouth as his body was shutting down. The way his hand felt as I held it tightly. The way I cried on his shoulder as he took his last breath...telling him over and over that I forgave him.
The rest of the week following that night I spent planning the entire visitation and funeral. I picked out a coffin I thought my dad would like, a floral spread at the funeral home to match his love for America, and went to the cemetery to design a tombstone personalized with an American flag on it. I then coordinated the funeral service and put thought into each specific song that was to be played. I put my heart and soul into planning everything the way I felt would bring my dad the most honor. A testament to the healing God brought into my life. I wanted my life that week to be a reflection of all God had done for me. I still do.
We don't get to choose our number of days on this earth or the amount of time we get to spend with the people we love. But we are called to love. And one way of loving is to forgive. And sometimes we need to reach out for help in order to help our hearts heal and learn how to forgive.
One thing I want to stress is to not wait to seek healing. And to not wait to experience real love, joy, and intimacy in this life.
I continue to believe that God had a specific plan for everything. And I thank God everyday for bringing Leslie and Renee into my life to send me on a path towards healing at just the right time. God knew. And God made a way.
26 years, 5 months, and 1 week.
That was all the time I got with my dad on this earth. And in the space between the day I came into this world and the day my dad left it, God extended an infinite amount of grace over my life and heart.
I found this bracelet in my bathroom drawer this week while I was cleaning. Slightly covered with some dust and makeup. I haven't look at it in I can't remember how long...I received it sometime after my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Purple is the color for pancreatic cancer awareness. I guess that's the point of these bracelets...to spread awareness and to keep people who need prayers on your heart. To me though, it represented mortality.
I wore it to contribute to a cause. But in my mind it was a constant reminder and symbol that my dad was dying. I carried that thought with me all day, everyday. I spent 13 months trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable. It's amazing how your mind can't comprehend the thought of someone close to you dying. It's too big a thought to even process. You can't even fathom how you will get through it. But when it happens, you just do.
It's amazing how your mind goes into a combination of shock and survival mode during times of tragedy...
I remember sitting down with the funeral director and my uncles, 12 or 13 hours after my dad's passing. The whole time, my mind was like, "Is this really happening right now?"
I remember so many months ago my dad talking to me about funeral arrangements when I would visit him at work. I hated when he talked about that stuff. To me, it felt like he was giving up. But, he was being realistic, and I knew that too. Even when I was sitting at his bedside at the hospital, I kept looking at him, thinking about how he was alive right in front of me...and how it wouldn't be much longer until I would be at his funeral...but again, you can't even wrap your head around it.
And here I was, sitting with my uncles, planning the funeral and visitation for my dad. Something he never asked of me when he was alive, but something I knew I had to do for him. It was my last way of giving back to him and commemorating his life. Or so I thought...
I also remember spelling my dad's name as the funeral director wrote it on his death certificate. That took me back to all the paperwork I filled out growing up that would ask me for my parents' names. Kevin Shalawylo. My dad.
As we got further down the death certificate, I looked to my uncles to try and remember the time of death. That whole night was blur. I guess those 3 days my dad was admitted to the hospital were a blur.
The time my dad's body gave out. The time he took his last breath. The time my whole world changed as I knew it.
I cried. I kept waiting for him to breathe another breath, but also dreaded it since he was in so much pain..gasping for air. And then, he was gone.
I cried on his shoulder, feeling his warmth for the last time. Knowing it was the last time I would ever hug my dad. Ever again. I knew I would miss him deeply... miss those random texts saying hi or telling me to not be out driving on nights when roads were bad... texts asking me to bring him dinner to work. That text or phone call at 10:08pm on my birthday; my birth minute.
It had been a process, but I had also been preparing myself to let go of my dad. Which was so painfully difficult since I only began to really hold him close and have real hope for our relationship just a few months before his cancer diagnosis.
I was so confused. I couldn't understand why God would allow such a thing to happen to my dad at such a time when I thought things were starting to look up for him...for us. It just didn't seem fair, and to be honest, it still doesn't seem fair. It brings me to tears at the most random of moments thinking about how much my dad suffered in this life.
Even though I was angry and deeply hurt over the situation, I never felt angry with God. I knew in my heart that God doesn't cause cancer and pain. How could a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to bring us eternal life cause death? The truth, is that God doesn't cause death. We caused death by not listening to Him in the garden at the beginning of time. We fell short. And God created us to have free will knowing that we would fall short.
And God also didn't send His son to earth to die. To quote my pastor, "When God came, we put Him on the cross. We killed Him." But what did God do? He sent His beloved Son to us, knowing that we would kill him at just 33 years of life, and in turn used that very moment of death to complete the greatest Love story of all time.
I also don't believe that God causes us to go through these trials for the sake of testing us. But rather to teach us how to learn how to cling to truth, even in the midst of seep sorrow. Can we still see the Light, even while we feel stranded in some of the darkest of places? And the answer to that is yes. That Light never leaves us. It is always there, waiting for us to move towards it.
In my dad's final moments, although the most unbearable of my entire life, I still felt wrapped in Love, and I knew my dad was finally in Good Hands. And maybe he always was and just never knew it.
Even though it didn't feel fair that my dad was diagnosed with cancer at a time when things started looking up for us, I am clinging to the truth that God planned for this very time, each of my dad's breaths had been measured out. And within that space of time measured out by breaths, God brought that healing with my dad; it was God's gift to me. I was able to let go of my dad with total peace, knowing how much he loved me. And trusting that he knew how much I loved him.
I remember sitting in my dad's room with him the day he passed away. He kept pulling his oxygen off. He wasn't listening to anybody. But finally, I gently yelled at him and said, "Dad, leave your oxygen on!" He looked at me and nodded. He listened. And I'd like to think that gave me a few more hours with him, anyway.
I don't know what lies ahead. But I am still trusting that God is Good. I would like to believe that my dad knew how much I loved him and that my dad found peace with God and within himself his last few days here.
Even though some days are still difficult for me as I grieve, I still have hope in the promise that this life is not the end. And maybe, when it is my time, and I get to the other side, my dad and I can pick up right where we left off. He will still be annoyed that my hair always looks crazy, and we will finally be in total peace...no pain, no fear, no sorrow.
I would like to think that somehow these trials here really are preparing us for what is to come. To be in complete and reverent awe of the beauty of eternal life with the total understanding of why it was so important to trust Him on our way there. May we all continue to step Heavenward together.
He was. He is. And He is to come.