My Circle

My Circle

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Embracing The Path

"I hate, hate, hate being a widow" I exclaimed, tears trickling down my face into my hair as I lay on my bed, talking on the phone with a friend. "I am 38 years old and I don't know who I am, because my life got turned upside down 6 years ago and I no longer know me.... actually, that isn't true, I do know...", I whispered, "I just don't want it."
"I don't want this life and yet I feel like in order to move forward into what God has for me, I need to embrace this truth of who I am - even though I didn't choose it.", my voice broke as I swiped uselessly at the endless trail of silent tears, "I. Didn't. Want. This."

I am at a conference for my company this holiday weekend  and it has been great! A few days packed full of information, knowledge, laughter, new friends -- and self examination and truths. 
This was supposed to be a weekend of business training and yet all I keep hearing is "know who you are", "be yourself", "be who you are"... and it was frustrating me as I inwardly gritted my teeth because I knew God was speaking to me and it wasn't about business - it was personal. 

In all honesty, I feel like this is something God has been speaking to me about for some time now, but, it has come to a head and yesterday, I felt like a freight train was bearing down on me, overwhelming me with a truth that I didn't want to hear. 
Like a toddler, I do pretty well acting as if I keep my fingers in my ears long enough and keep life shouting loudly enough... maybe the truth won't whisper quite so loudly. 

My emotions were teeming as I walked outside the hotel, along the empty pier, overlooking the harbor during the evening hours - the last rays of the sun disappearing over the calm waters, seagulls settling to roost for the night, the happy chatter of couples and families drifted down to me on the evening breeze. 
As I stepped away from the noise and into the quiet - the ache in my soul throbbed and I knew it was time to address the truth of the Voice speaking ever so gently into my wounded soul. 
I still fought it, I called a friend and tried to use our conversation as a buffer, but, as I walked the concrete pier and the breeze blew on my face - I knew it was no longer my choice and we were going to deal with it. 

So my friend - I'm sharing this with you because we all have things, situations, struggles, that we don't want in our lives. Unintended consequences of choices we have made or things we have absolutely no control over and yet still impact our lives on a daily basis. 

For me, being a widow in my 30s and a solo parent of 5 kids was the LAST reality I ever wanted or even considered as being my life. I had plans and desires and none of those were seen through the view of the lens that is my life now. 

Last night, as I churned through the feelings and emotions that were brought to the surface, my Abba Father, gently peeled back some of the layers of denial and hurt as He pointed out some truths to me. You can apply them to you and in whatever situation you find yourself. 

1. He chose me and He loves me absolutely - toddler tantrum notwithstanding. 
“Brothers and sisters beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you;”

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Psalms 139:16 ESV

2. He has good plans for me. 
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.”
Psalms 139:17-18 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

3. He holds my future. 
“For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above--spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].”


((Hugs)) friend today and everyday on this journey of grace. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

6 years....

6 years today... 😓With the passage of time, the reality of your absence has only sharpened and I ache for missing you... every. single. day. 💔 
I miss your face, the sound of your voice, your laughter and joy in life, the late night conversations, the feel of your hand in mine, your presence in our family, your interaction with our kids, your strength and hardworking commitment to our family and our future.
Even though I still feel as if I'm missing half of me, I make sure we choose every day, by God's grace, to move forward and thrive as we walk/crawl/are carried on this journey without you. As we choose joy and life and no matter how my heart grows as I embrace the future, you will always have my heart and love.
I. Miss. You.
Kpakpando Nkem (For my non-Igbo friends, this means " my shining star". Cj had this inscribed inside n my wedding ring before we married)#journeyofgrace #choosingjoy #choosingtothrive#widow #widowlife #widowmom #thechijiokelife

Friday, February 3, 2017

A 40th Birthday

Cj would have celebrated his 40th birthday yesterday. 

No matter how well I think I've prepared for it, acknowledged it... no matter how many times I've been here in the almost 6yrs of walking this path; the anniversaries - birthdays, holidays, our wedding, his death - these days are brutal for me. 

It doesn't matter how well I've been doing or how strong I'm feeling in the weeks leading up to them -- there always comes the day when I can't hold it together anymore and the grief comes roaring back to center stage. 
I can blame it on exhaustion, stress, sadness of other circumstances around me triggering it, but, the truth of the matter is that I just miss him. 
I hate being a widow. 
Hate my kids not having a daddy. 
Hate missing him so badly it hurts to breathe. 
Hate remembering the good times only to awaken to the reality again. 
Hate mourning the "what should have been". 
Hate walking around choking on tears and drowning in emotion. 
Hate having a broken heart. 
Hate feeling like I cannot do this for one more day.

Today is that day for me. It's not pretty, but, it is honest. This is the truth of what this journey looks like - almost 6 years later. I did not understand this before -- I barely comprehend it now. "Abba, my heart is so broken- how can there be any good out of all this mess?" 
And He stops everything to pick me up again. To hold me in the Arms that hold up the universe. The Mind that holds all wisdom thinks of me and the Voice that spoke the world into existence, speaks my name. He soothes my pain and gently reminds me that I am His daughter; His beloved. 
He stores my tears and knows my pain as He loves me. Through this valley I know that I am not alone; I have never been alone. I don't think I've walked even one step in my own strength. 
He shepherds my wounded soul and gathers the pieces of my broken heart. And with every ragged, painful breath, I lift a symphony of praise to the One who has my heart. 
“You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:5, 10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

He has restored my joy throughout this day - not in my circumstances; they haven't changed.  But in knowing the truth of my hope in Christ. My heart is weary in the waiting, the journeying, but, He restores my soul with His unstoppable, indescribable love. With every beat of my heart, I am in awe of the Creator and Lover of my soul. He is good. He goes before me, He never leaves me. “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Victorious 4th!!

"But, mom, you can't promise me that nothing bad will happen! I don't want to go!!", tears trickled down my 9yr old daughter's cheeks as she wrapped her arms tightly around herself and stared up at me desperately.
We were standing in the center of the canoe/kayak office. A crowd of laughing, chatting people moved around us, heading through the open garage doors to the big, yellow bus waiting to take us to our drop off point.
It was the 4th of July and we had decided to get outdoors and try our family hand at canoeing. It was another first for us, several of the kids had already mentioned the "what if" thought that always run through our minds when we gear up for what should be a fun activity -- but for us brings back memories of packing up for another fun summer day.
As we packed the car that morning, drove into the beat up parking lot, lush greenery waving around us in the sunshine and warm breeze, I could hear the echoes of the day we did all of the same... and left hours later in dazed disbelief, our lives shattered and forever changed by the loss of our daddy/husband.
We had already prayed, covering our fears in truth, but, knowing we had done this back then too, and yet... This experience is something I think most people who have gone through a trauma have to handle and walk through on varying levels.
In our family, we don't let it stop us from living our lives and trying new things, we just know it is the "elephant in the room". We have lots of discussion about choosing to thrive, not letting fear control us, and who we are created to be in Christ.
So this day, we were all doing ok, until we watched the "obligatory safety video" where they show you extreme situations, talk about the worst happenings, tell you about the courses and trainings you should have under your belt, and generally scare the crap out of you before saying "go have fun"!
Being an adult, I was able to recognize the difference, but, my 9yr old was reliving a terrifying moment in her young lifetime. When her dad saved her at the cost of his life. She never really speaks about what those moments were like for her, but, we have dealt with nightmares, emotional outbursts, and unexplainable physical ailments in the years after he died.
My focus has always been on affirming her and the fact that it wasn't her fault.
I felt helpless standing there, rubbing her arm and fighting my own tears, but, inside I felt like stamping my foot and shouting, "This isn't fair! She shouldn't have to go through this!"
We loaded onto the bus, I was able to get my emotions under control, and as we bumped down the road, wind blowing through the windows, we talked - reminding her of who she is, how she is created and equipped for this moment, how she can walk in power through Christ. He wants her to live her life abundantly and with power - not controlled by fear. My sister assured her that if she tried and just couldn't handle it we could pull out and walk back to the bus.
After praying together for peace, safety, and confidence, my girl wiped her face and went forth in a grace that amazed me!
I was so impressed by her strength. She chose to walk in this path and never looked back. She confidently got into the boat with her uncle and cousin and waved at me with a somewhat hesitant smile as we pushed off from shore.
But, that wasn't all she did. She didn't just sit quietly and enjoy the ride. She jumped into the experience - laughing and playing with her crazy uncle and cousin rocking the boat to the point of MY breath leaving, singing along to the music cranking from their portable speaker, swimming during our lunch break, generally being a water baby as she swam along side the canoe later on, enjoyed riding on the front of the canoe, tried her hand at paddling, switched boats enroute, played with her cousins and just had a BLAST facing this fear and forgetting about it!! #nolongerslaves
We all had such a good time and look forward to more fun in the future, but, I was never prouder of my girl than in those moments yesterday when she decided for herself that she was going to choose to thrive!! #LOVEhascalledhername

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Unfailing Love

8 years ago this was my status. A "weekend away" used to seem so long without Cj, when I didn't know that a "lifetime away" was quickly approaching. Every day is a long day, every night is forever... 

::God, how I miss him::

Facebook memories have been inundating me with old posts, reminding me of a lost time of blissful, ignorant, innocence... depending on the day it seems to mock me. My heart aches as the 5th anniversary looms ahead and I remember the unknowingly, unappreciated joys of 

Making dinner while watching the kids lounging with CJ... 

Laughing as Cadence danced to loud music with her daddy...  

Stifling laughter as Cj and I make eye contact over the boys' heads, listening to another hair brained idea... 

Talking about life and decisions with the man who loved me and wanted the best for our family...

I look at my 5yr old who didn't get to know his daddy and <so> <desperately> wants,  NEEDS to know what it is to be loved and wanted by his dad, to have a man in his life who wants and loves him - unconditionally and completely. Despite his idiosyncrasies and little boy annoyances. I see this hole every. single. day. and my heart screams, "it's not fair, why does he have to suffer this"!!!

:::I'm tired today and my defenses get shaky when I'm exhausted. So the pain seeps out and crawls onto paper and then my computer:::

“How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes…but I trust in Your unfailing love…” Ps 13:2,3,5a
“But You, o Lord, are a shield around me; You are my glory, the One who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and He answered me…” Ps 3:3-4a

Here is my TRUTH when I stare down this dark tunnel that has no end in sight. When I have to take one more step up this mountain. 

I do not understand this plan. At times, I do not see His hand. But, I do trust His heart and I do know Him. I know His unfailing love - therefore I can just lay my head down and cry.

 :::I don't get it Lord, I don't get it. Where is that joy that comes in the morning? Where is the working together for good? It is too much:::

When I am at my end, He seems to do His best work. So I just want to stay in that spot - free falling into His grace. I have to acknowledge that I am incapable of doing this on my own. 


As I was writing this and choking on emotion - I put on my headphones and hit play. A song I haven't heard, "Enough by Natalie Grant", came on and I have kept it on repeat as the words of my Savior sang over my hurting soul until I could sing along.

Here where the silence speaks
Here in the great unseen
Here when the answer’s out of reach

Here I will brace my heart
Here I will brave the dark
Here find You singing over me
I am known, I am seen
I am carried by the One who won’t forsake me
I am held, I’m not alone
And I know that You will never let me go

Your unfailing love, Your unfailing love
It’s all I have, it’s all I need and it’s enough
Your unfailing love, Your unfailing love
It’s all I have, it’s all I need and it’s enough
It’s all I have, it’s all I need it’s enough

Here I’ll let faith collide
With fear, knowing I will find
You are only good, and only kind
I am known, I am seen
I am carried by the One who won’t forsake me
I am held, I’m not alone

‘Cause I know that You will never let me go
In my weakness you are closest
When I’m heavy and heartbroken
Still You whisper every moment
You are mine when the storm is finally over
And the Heavens are wide open

Still You whisper every moment You are mine

You’re all I have
You’re all I need
You are enough

My middle name is, “Elsie” after my paternal grandmother, an imperfect woman of grace and class - who loved her Lord. The meaning of names are significant to me, so I looked up what Elsie means today. Tears came to my eyes as I read the meaning and the words of this song played in the background. 

Elsie ~ “my God is bountiful. God of plenty. God’s promise.”

“I am praying to You because I know You will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray, show me Your unfailing love in wonderful ways.” Ps 17:6 
“But, I trust in Your unfailing love. I will rejoice because You have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because He is good to me.” Ps 13:5-6

His unfailing love surrounds me. He is enough.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lessons in the Carribbean

Yesterday was a stepping stone in my grief process, a moment in the healing journey.
Grief is such an odd walk, sometimes you expect the triggers - like driving through Tennessee last year - and other times these moments crash on you unexpectedly.
Oddly enough, these are the moments that, although they are awful to breathe through - bring such comfort because I KNOW the presence and peace of my Savior as He carries me through the valley, lifts me up out of the waves.
Yesterday was one of those unexpected tsunamis that opened my eyes to another facet of healing, growth, and grief that I needed, desperately, to address.

It was a perfect day in the Riviera Maya - we were on a girls birthday trip in Tulum, an unexpected blessing, and we decided to try a new activity; paddle-boarding in a bay off the ocean.
We headed out early, dashing across mexican traffic to catch the "Collectiva", or local taxi bus. We crowded 6 of us girls into the little bus and hurtled down the road. Upon reaching our stop we were met by our guide and instructor (Mauricio, from Mexican carribbean kitesurfing and paddle boarding; he was one of the most authentically friendly humans I have ever met! An amazing guide and I cannot recommend him enough!! He was incredible.).

It was an exquisite location, a hidden away bay, off of a private road - one of the most beautiful places I have experienced! After a quick lesson, the 6 of us and Mauricio, set off across the bay to a snorkeling location close to a coral reef.

Since CJ drowned while we were vacationing, I have had to walk through irrational fears regarding fun, vacations, and specifically water activities while on vacation. It is a fact of post traumatic stress that I have to pray my way through vacations, adventures, etc. I have snorkeled several times since Cj's drowning and every time it is a battle - praying my way through the moments. Today was no different and I was anxiously excited about this trip as a means of facing my fears again.

So... paddle boarding is NOT as easy as it looks!! LOL ;-) I finally made my way out to the buoy, donned my snorkeling mask and dropped off my board into the sparkling, blue green, salt water. We spent a few minutes swimming around the coral, taking in the amazing life species swimming around. I was enjoying myself and wasn't swallowing sea water! LOL
Suddenly, one of the girls said, "wow, that current really pushed us out far from our boards".
I looked up to see our string of boards a surprisingly far distance away and with every swell of the waves, getting further away. My heart leaped into overtime and I began to swim, thinking to myself, "it's ok, you just have to start moving that direction again."
However, I quickly realized that the current was a lot stronger than I anticipated and my swimming was only keeping me in place; not moving me towards my goal.

Two things happened then that brought my tenuous control to the edge of breaking. As I turned to assess my situation I accidentally got my snorkel swamped with sea water and took a BIG gulp as I went for a breath - choking/gagging result!! Ocean water is nasty stuff to drink and it makes your throat feel like its sticking together. Crazy to be surrounded by gorgeous water and So. Incredibly. Thirsty.

And secondly, I heard a friend, say "...oh, I'm tired. I just about drowned with that wave..." I looked at her and I instantly saw that she wasn't joking, she was truly getting exhausted, we were very far from our boards, I couldn't see Mauricio as the waves kept coming and in my growing panic, I again turned wrong and drank another mouthful of salty water as I inhaled.
My world instantly changed and I was once again, standing on an riverbank in the mountains of Tennessee in never ending water searching for my husband.



Not knowing what to do.
Knowing there was nothing I could do.
Knowing I somehow wasn't doing enough. ...and my husband was paying the price for my inability - with. his. life.

A voice whispered accusingly
::You didn't save your husband and you aren't going to be able to help your friend either; you aren't strong enough, able enough, She isn't going to make it and you are helpless to do anything about it::

Overwhelming dread, agony and fear flooded me as I kept swimming, thoughts crashing in my head as I tried to figure out a successful plan to get aid and kept coming up short as I couldn't seem to swim fast enough to beat the current and again took a mouthful of disgusting salt water as I began to panic and lose all rhythm.
I was already praying, but, this time I just cried out "Jesus help me"!

He spoke softly, "Whom exactly are you relying on, Hannah? Who didn't "save" your husband that day? Do you believe that was a malfunction of your own strength? You CANNOT carry that burden. Who is caring for you today and can I take this from you? You can either keep striving to be strong on your own OR you can let go, trust Me, and allow Me to get this. Which will it be? Pride or Humility?"

Guys, I am not good at giving up control, but, I gave up at that point!! I was stunned as I realized I had been holding this burden of guilt over Cj's death and didn't even realize it.
I stopped churning water, took off my mask, and asked for help. My friends were awesome, encouraging and supporting me as they quickly signaled our guide who zipped over with a board and both me and my friend who I had been so worried over were able to rest using it as a float as he towed us back to the group of boards.
I was relieved we were both fine, everyone was fine, and we would make it home safely, but, I was so done with the ocean!
I rested on my board, taking in the surroundings, feeling the breeze on my face and the gentle rocking of the board with the waves as the group cheerfully played around me, snapping pictures, etc.

As we headed towards shore a few minutes later, I felt something deep inside shatter and the tears began to stream down my face as I wept over that day. "God, I didn't realize how deep this pain went for me on this. I feel like it is my fault and I have never truly acknowledged this fact. CJ, I am so sorry I wasn't able to save you that day, baby. I am sorry. I am sorry that we have to live without you, that our kids no longer have you. I am sorry that you never got to realize so many dreams and goals. I am sorry that we lost out on life together. I am so sorry."

I pushed the oar through the waves, driving towards the shore, attempting to keep my sobs in check. Then a Voice spoke, whispering quietly through the wind whistling past my ears.

The Voice that gentles my broken heart
The Voice that I hear in my darkest moments; my best moments.
The Voice that my soul knows and my heart hungers to hear.
The Voice of the Lover and Creator of my soul.

::"My daughter, My beloved... this weight is not yours to carry anymore. This pain, this guilt is not of Me. Grieve this and place it into My hands, dear one. You are my beloved, I delight in you. My thoughts are not yours and My ways are beyond your understanding daughter"::

Nothing compares, nothing comes close to His presence. I have experienced and known Him. I welcome Him into my chaos, joy, sorrow; my world. And I am overcome by Him.

His Child ~ His handmaiden ~ Chosen

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fighting to Live Every Moment!

I'm sitting on an airplane again.... Raindrops trickling down the windowpane as we sit on the runway. We have been delayed due to severe storms, sitting here for almost an hour.

I've made good use of the time, studying and listening to business training, but, I reached a moment of overload as idea after idea and budding hopes swirled in my head; each trying to take shape.
I closed my books and turned on my music, resting my head on the blue, pleather headrest. "Lord, I have such vision -- it's almost hard for me to believe it for myself, for my family, for my team... Yet, I know You made me with this desire for more, this passion burning in my chest to help others find their inner flame and reach their dreams - to live to the highest potential You have called us towards. But, if I'm honest, I'm scared! Like, "mouth dry-can't swallow-butterflies in my stomach" scared - all those what ifs. But, I'm learning to turn that volume off and instead speak Your Truth into my heart and life..."

::A quiet Voice resonates in my soul, "What is your alternative? If you don't step out daughter, there are so many who will not be reached, there are so many waiting for the Light to shine -- will you be a vessel of glory for Me?"::

{“...become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to His guests for their blessing.”
‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2:21‬ ‭MSG‬‬}

As I rested, eyes closed, the opening guitar strains of One Republic's song, "I Lived", began playing... 
"I hope when you take that jump, you don't fear the fall. Hope when the water rises, you built a wall... Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay... The only way you can know is give it all you have. And I hope that you don't suffer but take the pain. Hope when the moment comes, you'll say
I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived.

I fought a sudden wave of tears as my Cj's face came to mind and his life played before me. The choices he made, the way he RAN his race of life, fighting for his goals and dreams... blowing the status quo out of the water in so many areas.
I recently told a friend, "I never had to prod or pull CJ... I was running to keep up!" His example challenged me and still does every day - I loved him for many reasons, but, his drive and determined focus were ones that stuck out to me. I respected him greatly and loved him for it. 
He never found a reason he couldn't reach for a goal; he simply did it. Despite numerous people telling him otherwise. Despite it looking impossible. His example pushes me on to fight when I want to give up, when I want to say I can't, it's too hard.

Fight the urge to be angry that I have to be both provider and nurturer and I can never get it all done.
Fight the guilt that tries to creep in when I leave my precious children for yet another trip that is based on building my business and our future.
Fight the despair and overwhelm at the weight of the burden that is single parenting.
 Fight the crushing sadness that loneliness brings at night when all is quiet or when I have to sit alone in a crowded room of couples.
Fight to get back up after being bowled over by a tsunami of grief that still takes my breath away and makes my heart shiver.
Fight to move on and try again after failing in epic ways.
Fight to BELIEVE that I can reach my goals and dreams.
Fight to learn ways to become better at what I do -no matter how little time I have available.
Fight to learn how to show others how to fulfill their dreams.
Fight to keep that "moment of decision" an everyday commitment. 

The chorus to the song soared, "...I, I did it all! I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived"

I blinked away the tears and smiled, "...babe, I am trying to keep up still! I'm going to LIVE this life -- take that jump, take every second that this life gives, every moment God grants me to have an impact. I'm taking it! I know you are watching, praying for us, and I hope you are proud of me and the choices I am making for our family's future. Father, thank you for giving me perspective and hope and a push forward... I'm forever grateful for the examples You have given me and the desire to keep moving upward."

Keep us in prayer, keep me in prayer -- I'm fighting to live every moment God offers to me. It's a daunting task and yet, I am grateful I get the chance - when that moment comes, I want to say I lived! #choosingtothrive