Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Finding God in June

Is June always this busy?

I think so. Community picnics, picking peas and strawberries, a week of Bible School - these events are found in every June.

This month we are also catching up on things that were not done earlier in the year such as achievement test and dental appointments. Friends and family have been inviting us for Sunday dinners and evening cookouts. We feel so much support.

Does it sound odd to say that we are having a good month? Maybe. We have our bad moments, but when I talk to moms with teens, I find that they deal with attitudes too. But we are having many good times. I don't know the proper way to work through grief and suspect that there aren't any rules. I'm at the point now that I can crack open the box, peek in, stir some memories around, then put it on the shelf for another day. I don't think I'm in denial or squelching my pain. I get panicky when I think of living without Ed for several decades. But I choose to only deal with grief for a little while then go enjoy these lovely June days.

 Here is a glimpse of our month.

My brothers continue to work on our AC project. Two different days we had to leave our house to avoid the fumes while they sprayed foam insulation in the attic. It was sorta fun to hang out for hours at the park, library, and mall play area with no hurry to get home. I realized how often I'm in a rush to get things done and rarely do I just sit on a park bench in the middle of the day.

A girlie tea party.

The children loved an evening with friends at the huge slide.

My dear friend Holly from Guatemala spent a week in Pennsylvania. We spent a whole day talking, only rousing ourselves from conversation long enough to feed our children. On another day I helped serve a tea party in honor of her mother's 70th birthday. It was held on the big front porch of her grandparent's farm house on one of the many perfect June days we have had this month. I felt like I had fallen into the pages of Southern Living magazine. 

On yet another evening, Holly and I with a few friends caught up on our current lives and relived memories of camping along the creek. I laughed harder those hours than I have in a very long time. Old friends are golden. 

My youngest brother took my boys and some of their cousins on a Saturday bike hike. I'm so grateful for all the ways uncles have invested in my boys' lives this month.

While their brothers were away, the girls wanted to do something special so they made cake pops. I thought it would be a Pinterest fail, but they had fun and the results tasted great even if they didn't quite match the photos.   

Long-time readers will remember the dutch oven gathering that Ed held each year. We decided to continue the tradition. We had maybe the best gathering yet, except that Ed wasn't present. I'll do a whole post on it next week.

I had my heart set on visiting Ed's sister Jean in North Carolina on Father's Day weekend since her husband Jason died eight years ago on this weekend. We drove down Sunday, enjoying an evening with fish tacos and games. 

On Monday morning we decided to drive to the beach. We had numerous delays including a bridge detour. We finally arrived at the state park where we planned to take a ferry to an island. When we pulled into the park and saw "ferry closed for the season" we nearly had tears from our travel-weary children. We found another beach and the boys hit the waves in minutes. 

By the time we loaded up our sun-burnt children hours later, we were ready to get home. But Jean had ordered 100 pounds of blueberries from a local blueberry farm and I thought we should take the time to get them first. 

We arrived at the farm down a long sandy lane just before closing time. We were met by the owner who told us that someone had already picked up our berries. Apparently Mennonites are the only ones who order 100 pounds of blueberries so when a Mennonite man asked for 100 pounds of berries, he was given Jean's berries. The pickers were just pulling in with a trailer load of berries so we offered to wait. We were able to watch them sort and box the sun-warmed berries and the owner loaded our boxes extra full for our trouble. 

I was a little worried about traversing the lane again. The deep sand made traction nearly impossible and the trucks had worn deep ruts. My van isn't good in snow and we soon found sand is just as bad. Our boys climbed out and threw sticks and beach towels into the ruts, but we were stuck. I figured we'd have to trudge back up the lane and beg help from the blueberry farm but on the same lane was several houses. In the house closest to where we were stuck lived friends of Jean. They kindly pulled us out of our predicament. I think God looks after widows.

How we regret that we have no photos of that experience. We know that anyone hearing of our adventure will figure that we were two females with no driving smarts. We have no proof of the horrible condition of that lane because my phone charger had broken earlier in the day and the only phone with us that still had power didn't have a camera. Jean's friends said that on the worse days the blueberry farm keeps a truck out in the lane just to pull out vehicles.

By now our snack stash had been mostly depleted. Jean suggested stopping to eat but her oldest son had put a huge casserole in the oven at home when he got home from work so I wanted to just keep driving. We opened a box of blueberries and nearly consumed five pounds by the time we pulled into the driveway hours later. The children still ate a huge pile of food before scrubbing off the layers of sand and falling into bed. 

I only wish we could have told the tale of our day to Jason and Ed. How they would have laughed at our escapades. I didn't even mention our failed attempt at dumpster diving. I'm so grateful for a fun adventurous sister-in-law who can keep laughing whatever happens.

The rest of our trip was low key. We hung out at Jean's just enjoying time together. We helped bake for their farmer's market. It was fun to get a peek at their daily activities.

I made over 25 pie crusts - probably more than I usually make in a year. 

On the night of the 18th we lit sparklers. I told the children that it had been one month since Ed had died. I asked our five-year-old if she thought there were sparklers in heaven. She didn't hesitate to inform me that there wasn't any darkness in heaven because Jesus is the light. 

Back in Pennsylvania, we had only been home for a few hours when the toilet overflowed. It wasn't a photographic moment. I thought I had it mopped up, but the next morning I found that it had leaked into the basement onto the stacks of boxes awaiting return to the attic. 

If any of you wonder if your prayers are being answered, here is proof. I was only mildly annoyed and not the stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed person that I would have expected to be when cleaning up a putrid mess after hours of driving.

I'm slowly working through the list of things that need transferred into my name. I'm almost enjoying the challenge though I wish it was not necessary. Nearly always I find that it is more complicated than I expected. One day I visited the bank and thought I had every possible paper signed. But taking Ed's name off one account dominoed into several other issues. I was at the bank two more times that week. Yesterday I did the titles and registration on vehicles. I'm amazed that I can walk into an office with a death certificate and explain what I need without tears. I remember totally breaking down one day when I was on the phone with the auto insurance secretary a few weeks before Ed's death. 

Either I've grown callous.

Or you are praying. 

I choose to believe that latter. God is powerful enough to help widows with stuck vehicles, clogged toilets, teenage attitudes, and endless paperwork. And He is gracious to give kind friends, helpful family, fun-loving children, and an overdose of beautiful weather.
I waited patiently for the Lord...He brought me...out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock...he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:1-3

Saturday, June 22, 2019

In His Own Words

A few months ago I found a document in our computer that I didn't know existed. Two years ago, a few weeks after Ed's brain cancer diagnosis, Ed had written these words. 

I edited this a little, changing some verb tenses and sentence order, but otherwise these words are Ed's.

After my tumor surgery, I did not have a lot of thinking power, and I did not spend a lot of time thinking about what caused the tumor. I know others were thinking a lot about it, but it did not concern me in the least. I guess I was still in a fog from the surgery. 

A few days after I was home, the doctor called Gina to let her know the outcome of the biopsy. I remember Gina calling me back to our room and telling me about the report. Glioblastoma meant nothing to me at the time, but she said that it was an aggressive cancer. A few more days went by until I was coherent enough to want to know more about it. I googled it and was surprised to know how serious it really was. Wikipedia said life span was normally 12-16 months. That is when it really hit me, and I did not read too much more that day. 

But through this time, I still felt a great sense of peace and assurance that God was in control. I was waking up really early in the morning because of the steroid that I was taking, so I had a lot of time to read. I read through 1 and 2 Peter and highlighted verses that talked about trials and suffering. Those verses became a footing for me through some of those days. I felt so weak physically, as well as emotionally, but these verses helped. 

Verses like this:
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: (1 Peter 1:6-8)

He speaks of trials only lasting for a short time until Jesus appears. Even though we cannot see him now, we still believe that He is using this for our good and we can rejoice in that goodness. We have so many signs of God's goodness to us, not only through our personal peace and comfort of the scriptures, but also physical blessings of my recovery and people blessing us. We have lots of cards and financial gifts, people assuring of their prayers on our behalf, and providing childcare and meals.

I talked to the children about what cancer could mean for me and how I might not have long to live. I told them that we were going to try to enjoy our days together and not be bitter or angry toward God. There are many things that I am not strong enough to do, like playing ball or going for bike rides but we spend a lot of time together at home. Paige and Haven learned to enjoy climbing onto my lap with a book. I cherish those times with them thinking that they might not remember me.

Conversations with people are much easier to turn to a spiritual topics when you share about your limited life expectancy. Even as Christians, we sometimes shrink from talking about death but if our focus is on the eternal reward, it should come natural. I find that I have more time to talk to people as my priorities change.

- Ed Martin (written summer 2017)

This morning I'm grieving with our friends Galen and Patricia. Their teenage daughter Amanda was diagnosed with a rare and fatal heart disease this past winter. Last week they moved to Toronto to be near the hospital so Amanda could get on the heart transplant list. But last night God chose to give Amanda a new heart. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Ed's Funeral Video

I know there are many of you who wished you could have attended Ed's funeral.

Here is the video of the service. Thank you, Enoch, for providing this video for us.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Camping and Rambling

Which is worse, a sudden death or a terminal illness?

Ed's family has experienced both, and I think it would be impossible to choose even if we could. The sheer shock of the first is devastating, but slow suffering is equally hard.

This week I found both a pro and a con of Ed's terminal illness.

I appreciate that Ed could prepare for his death. In many ways he lived life as normal, but as soon as he heard his cancer diagnosis he began making me pay the bills. Ed had always took care of all financial matters, and I didn't pay a bit of attention to it. I wished it could have stayed that way. While I appreciated his efforts to teach me, I hated every minute of it. I didn't want to have to learn.

But last week when I sat down and quickly paid the month's household bills, I was so glad for the ease in which I could do it thanks to Ed's training. Family finances is one job that is no longer stressful to me.

But one thing I find very difficult with Ed's illness is that when I think of Ed, all I remember is the last months. The frustrations of lack of communication. The daily reminders of his declining brain function. Maybe if his illness had been only physical, I would remember the "real" Ed better. But brain cancer stole the man I married while he could still walk and talk. When I try to remember real conversations and "normal" life, there is only a fog.

I know those memories will return with time, and our little vacation this week helped bring back some of those memories.

I took the children on a short camping trip. I told them that it was a test. If we survived (maybe even thrived) on this trip, we'd try a longer camping trip.

The children rose to the challenge. Camping was so much easier than it was even a few years ago. The older ones could help put up tents, build fires, and pack the van.

The little girls are old enough to hike on their own two feet and entertain themselves with coloring books.

One friend told me I was amazing, but I may have been just crazy. Tent camping with six children? As the only adult? But every time I would start to panic I could hear Ed saying, "Of course you can. You'll be fine."

One of the greatest gifts Ed gave me was his confidence. Whether is was starting a blog, volunteering in prison, handling the family finances, or speaking to a group of ladies. He would never let me say I couldn't do it. He just assumed that I could, and he gave me the confidence to try.

So, we tried camping. And it worked.

We stayed at the Shenandoah National Park in VA that stretches the length of the Skyline Drive. We were able to use our A Kid in a Park pass again. Our children had never been there so it was fun to introduce them to the park. 

We stayed at Matthew's Arm Campground within the park. It was rather primitive with no showers, but we enjoyed our stay. We hoped in vain to see black bears. A mama bear and her two cubs were daily visitors to our campground, but we didn't catch even a glimpse. In the middle of the night, curled in a tent with my two little girlies, thoughts of bears wasn't good for sleeping, but we did wish for a distant glimpse of these furry creatures.

Skyline Drive curves around the top of the mountains with frequent overlooks. The views are stunning. The many visitor's centers gave us opportunity to enjoy several ranger talks about the wildlife and the history of the park.

Three days was not nearly enough time. There were so many hikes off Skyline Drive that we wanted to try. We are already planning where we will stay and what we'll do when we go back.

The hike to Dark Hollow Falls was all downhill into a ravine (and then back up), but the falls were worth the hike. The height of the falls and their beauty cannot be captured in a photo.

Camping brought back so many memories of Ed. When we were first married we did a lot of tenting. From sultry July evenings along the Conocheague Creek to a freezing November night camped on the beach. From July sunshine on a New Hampshire riverside to the pouring rain on the Clarion  River in northern Pennsylvania. I'll always be grateful we packed in so many fun experiences in those first years.

Our tent camping ended when we had three children in as many years, and we switched to cabin camping. But the memories continued. So grateful that Ed made family time a priority.

On the third day we drove over to Luray Caverns, just outside the park boundaries. The children had never been to a cave or cavern before. Usually we look for free or very inexpensive vacation spots, but we had been given money to spend on something fun as a family so decided to use it for tickets. The children loved the cavern tour and it was the highlight of the trip.

Now we are back home, and my brothers continue to work at replacing our AC. They finished pulling out all the old insulation which made an appalling mess. Don't worry. They cleaned it up.

And we are in time to enjoy our strawberry harvest. The berries are huge this year, and we've filled several large bowls with their yumminess.

Camping, home projects, spring harvest. Remembering Ed. Making new memories. This is our life today.


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