Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 - year in review

2013 has been one of the most difficult years of my life, and one with the most change.

In January, we were seriously struggling.  My husband had been out of work for almost 9 months, and the couple of possible jobs he had been offered turned out to be horrible experiences that only destroyed his self-confidence more.  We were relying on my measly teaching salary as our only income, which didn't cover our bills.  We were going deeper into debt and having to rely on our families to help us cover our expenses.  It was devastating to our morale. I would spend hours every day searching for and applying for jobs, for either of us, all to no avail.

By mid-February, I was getting desperate for extra work. I finally convinced my husband to let me email the director of our church's elementary school to ask if she needed substitute teachers.  I had met her while working the sound board for a women's ministry event she spoke at, so I wrote her the email. Later that week, we picked up substitute applications for both of us and kept praying God would open doors for my husband.  A few days later, the director emailed me again asking if I had any desire to interview for a temporary floater position that opened up on the preschool side when one staff member fell and broke her arm. I had never worked in a preschool, but we were desperate, so I said yes. 

I was hired as a temporary full-time employee on February 21st. It was challenging, especially with my working two jobs and my husband still out of work. His depression was pretty deep, and I worried a lot about him.  He was given the opportunity to sub numerous times, which was helpful for us both.  We also realized that the director could be a good reference for future applications, which was a plus, since she thought he was phenomenal.  After about six weeks, I was invited to stay on for the rest of the school year due to some staffing changes.  Near the end of April, Mom fell and broke her leg right below the hip - the exact same spot my grandmother had broken six years ago.  She had successful surgery, but we knew then that the cancer must be spreading again.  We knew things wouldn't probably get any better this time. At the end of May, I was brought in to the joint school office and given a promotion.  So for the summer, I was teaching online and working the closing shift at the school. 

Around the time I transferred into the office, Mom and Dad made the decision to stop treatment and go into hospice care.  The oncologist only kept suggesting aggressive chemo, but there was no real hope that it would prolong her life.  The decision to go into hospice was not unexpected, and Mom was in relatively good spirits. 

In July, I had finally convinced my husband to apply for some teaching jobs outside of our local district, because we were still seriously hurting for money to pay bills.  He eventually was hired to teach high school English at a charter school in a poor part of town.  He was scared and nervous about his ability to do the job well, but we knew we didn't really have any other options.  It took forever for him to get to sign the paperwork - it was almost three weeks from his interview to the time that they asked him to come to the school to fill out hiring paperwork, then he had to apply for a different fingerprint clearance card (they made a special new category for teachers), etc. But he finally started work the last week of July. 

The fall semester has been a busy one, and a challenging one. For the months of August and September, my husband would leave for work around 7 and not get home until around 6 or 6:30 p.m.; I would leave for work around 9:30 a.m. and not get home until around 7 p.m.  And of course, I am still teaching online, so I'd have grading to do in the mornings and/or evenings most days.  Cooking dinner was a serious challenge, as we both would want to rest and head to bed. Near the end of September, we got the call that Dad thought Mom was heading downhill.  I had suspected that the cancer was in her head for a few months, because one of her eyes was not tracking any more; in photos, it looks like she was cross-eyed.  Most likely the cancer was pushing her optical muscles, preventing her from seeing normally. 

A few days after that phone call, in the midst of serious questioning as to whether I could get home in time to see her, I got a message from my brother, asking if I was okay.  I thought that was especially sweet, since we rarely talk at all. While writing him back, I got another message telling me this person was sorry for my loss. My heart stopped when I realized that Mom must have died and no one had told me. A few minutes later, I got the confirmation. The world hasn't been the same since.

The next week was a blur, working, flying home, having Mom's funeral on my birthday, flying standby and having to wait an extra day to get back home. The next weekend, my husband and I had planned to head out of town for a long weekend, and my bosses were nice enough to let me go. The following weekend, we drove to my grandparents' (mom's parents) for their 70th wedding anniversary. October was very busy... In the midst of all of the craziness, my coworker left and I was promoted again; except this time, no one took my place in my old position, and so now I do everything for both positions without any help. It also meant a change in my shift, from closing to opening.  So now I am up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings, at work by 5:30 a.m., and often don't end up being relieved so I can go home until I've worked far more than 8 hours.  When I get home, then it's time to work on my teaching job, trying to stay on top of grading as my students submit their work. Needless to say, I'm pretty exhausted most days.

November was just exhausting for both of us, with work taking up pretty much all of our time. My in-laws came for Thanksgiving, and I was spending a lot of time at choir practice preparing for our cantata.  December brought more work, two Sundays of singing (both at our home church and at the church we partnered with - the church my parents were members of when I was born), lots of time on worship team, and, finally, Christmas.  Dad came out in November and spent some time with us before heading out to my grandmother's.  He came back for the cantata, then headed to my mom's parents' and to see my brother.  He came back again with Grandma for Christmas day, and now is finally on his way home. 

As I sit here tonight, my husband is in the Midwest with his family; he flew out the day after Christmas.  I've learned in the last two days that I can't fall asleep without him here.  It's quiet and lonely here, so I've been trying to stay busy working on a puzzle, reading, playing a video game, etc. Today has been especially hard, with my husband gone, a huge migraine that began by 1 p.m. and hasn't gone away yet, and the fact that today would have been my parents' 40th wedding anniversary.

2013 has been a hard, hard, hard year. I'm grateful for God's provision through all of it. I'm especially grateful that I had six days shy of 32 years with my mom. But I'm ready for a fresh start. I'm ready to say goodbye to this year and start 2014 new.  God says that He is making all things new - I need to embrace the new, find my place again. 

Goodbye, 2013. May 2014 find us healthier, happier, and closer to God.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Gifts

If you are struggling to decide what to do for your loved ones this Christmas, I'd like to propose that you do something for others in their honor in place of traditional gifting of things.  I have three organizations that I love that would truly make a difference in the world.  Each of these organizations has a Christmas Gift Catalog on their website:

1) Compassion International -
Some of my favorite gifts that will go to needy families around the world:

**Safe Water for Life - for $79, give a water filtration system that can provide enough clean water for an entire village for over 60 years.  Yes, you read that right - for over 6 decades, with simple maintenance.

**Care for an infant for one year - for $55, provide medical care for a new child for the first year of life.

**Provide Shelter / Support - for $42, provide shelter, food, and clothing for an orphan or abused or exploited child for one month.

Or, of course, you could sponsor a child for $32 a month and help provide food, education, and love each month.

2) Gospel for Asia -
This was my Mom's favorite charity, and so I just donated in her memory for Christmas. Some of my favorites:

**A pair of Rabbits - for only $11, provide a pair of rabbits that will be a source of income and food for years.

**A pair of Pigs - for $65, provide a pair of pigs that can produce up to 20 piglets a year; each piglet will grow to be over 200 lbs within 5 months, and will be a source of long-term income and food for a family.

**Provide for widows and orphans - for $75, help missionaries provide for widows (who are often blamed for their husbands' deaths in SE Asia) and orphans

**Mosquito nets - for just $10, you can provide netting that will protect a family against mosquitos, helping to prevent malaria and even death.

Or you could sponsor a child for $35 a month, or sponsor a missionary for $30 a month.

3) World Vision -
I received their catalog this last week, and used to sponsor a child with Mom when I was a kid. Some of the more interesting gifts here:

**Drought-resistant seeds - for just $17, you can provide a family with hybrid or drought-resistant seeds to help stave off famine and starvation.

**Multiplying gifts: World Vision partners with companies that agree to multiply your donation by a certain amount.  A couple that I like a lot are:
*****Life-saving Medicines and supplies - you give $60, they multiply it by 10 to provide $600 worth of supplies.
*****Clothing - you give $50, they multiply it by 10 to provide $500 worth of clothes

**Help sexually exploited girls - for $35, help provide food, safe shelter, counseling, medical care, and vocational training to women and girls rescued from human trafficking.

Or you could sponsor a child for around $35 a month.

Mom felt strongly about the importance of blessing others when God has blessed us.  My pastor quoted someone a few weeks ago in his sermon: "Do for one person what you wish you could do for everyone." 

This Christmas, will you join me in doing for at least one family in need what I wish we could do for every family?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grief is hard

Grief is hard. 

It sneaks up on you when you least expect it, overwhelming you and threatening to bring all else to a standstill.  The things that bring grief to the surface are not always what you'd expect, and some things that you'd think would spark an outpouring leave you nothing but numb.

In the past two months, things that have brought me to me knees with grief have been as varied as the stars, my cell phone, hearing a certain person singing, folding laundry, and discussing Christmas decorations and traditions.  Over Thanksgiving, I started sobbing while folding laundry because it reminded me of my mom laughing every year because her mother always sent her (and Mom's siblings) underwear.  Mom used to laugh and joke about it, because she was over 50 and still getting socks and underwear from her mother.  I was a wreck because I was folding underwear, but Mom wouldn't ever do that again. 

I never know when the grief will strike.

The holiday season is really difficult for me this year.  My in-laws were here for Thanksgiving, and I tried so hard to get into the spirit, since it was always my favorite holiday. But I think I wasn't that great of a host, between work, migraines, and grief.  It just wasn't the same.

I haven't got into the Christmas spirit at all. It just hurts.  Looking at everyone's decorations reminds me of Mom's decorations.  Looking at Christmas lights in the neighborhoods brings back memories of all the years driving around on Christmas Eve because Mom loved it so.

I'm going to be alone for a week right after Christmas, and I'm not looking forward to it. Time alone is time that I normally would have been on the phone talking to Mom. I don't do well alone these days.

I know Mom is perfect and happy. But it hurts so much to have lost my mother and my best friend.

As I said, grief is hard.