Day 650: Mani/Pedi

I’ve been getting my nails and toes done now for almost a year.

Before I’d never done it. I considered it a waste of time and money. After all, there were other things that were more pressing.

But before our vacation last year, I decided I wanted pretty toes to put in the sand. So I got a pedicure.

I started therapy a few weeks after we got back. At one point, my therapist said I should do something just for me, so when I left her office, I went and got my nails done. I’ve been going every few weeks since (with a few breaks because of covid).

For me, having my nails done has become a big deal. On days when getting out of bed seemed impossible, my self-esteem tanked, my house was a wreck, or life just seemed like too much to control, I could look at my nails and think, “At least these are pretty.” Having nice nails has given me a small sense of control at a time when I really needed it.

I’ve always had pretty giant hands for a woman. As a teenager, I was so embarrassed because mine were always almost or as big as the boys’ hands I wanted to hold. Having long, pretty nails makes me feel more feminine. More girly. It probably just makes me more high maintenance, but oh well. I’ll take what I can get for now.

Day 649: Employment

I’ve always been the girl with the plan. I mean, the last couple of years that’s all gone to crap, but it’s still essentially who I am. I like to know what’s next.

Had you asked me ten, five, or even two years ago what my job would be in 2021, I would have told you that I was going to remain a homeschool mom. The plan was to get everyone through at least sixth, but probably eighth grade at home.

Then Vance died and everything changed. I stayed home with the little boys that first year, which I think was the right thing for all of us. I needed the normalcy. They needed the extra time with their mom. We all needed the extra time to cry ourselves to sleep and just stay in bed on the hardest days.

This year I went ahead and sent the littles to public school. They have thrived. They are building relationships, playing sports, and learning. The adjustment was probably harder for me than it was for them. My days alone were sometimes overwhelming. Not that there was too much to do. Mostly, I was overwhelmed with a lack of accountability and the opportunity to spend way too much time curled up in a ball on my bed or losing myself in binge watching the latest Netflix phenomenon. Thankfully, covid meant opportunities for substitute teachers were high. I spent a great deal of time in all three school buildings in our small town. For the past couple of years I’d spent quite a bit of time in the elementary and high schools but with my limited availability (wanting to only do a few days a week and mostly wanting half-days), I just didn’t spend much time at the middle school. This year that changed. I was able to become a known face there and spent more than a few days roaming the halls and classrooms of BMS.

In God’s big plan, he knew that was exactly what I needed to be doing. Last month I interviewed for an opening in the sixth grade there. A few days later, I got the call offering me the job.I had to wait to share this until the school board made it official last night. I’m super excited to be taking this on. Kids are my calling. The idea of having a roomful of them to call my own makes my heart happy. Best of all, I’ll get to have Asa as a student one more time. I think that’s God’s way of confirming for me that this is the direction I’m supposed to go. Not exactly the plan I’d had, but I still get to be a teacher-mom to one of my kids for just one more year. If that’s not a God Sighting, I don’t know what is.

Day 648: Hobby Lobby

My house has become somewhat of a mini Hobby Lobby showroom. I’ve got so very many signs with inspiring words that my kids make fun of me and say I can’t buy anymore. Whatever, kiddos. Like that stops me. Momma buys what momma wants.

Today I went in to HL because I was feeling a bit emotional and decided retail therapy was the way to go. It was not, and not just because my bank account is now down $130 either.

Do you know how freaking hard it is to go into Hobby Lobby when you are already an emotional basket case, when you’ve been contemplating how hard it is to even think about growing old alone? How when you’ve spent over half your life being, well, half of a couple, a team, a marriage and then suddenly one day, you’re just not anymore. No one decided not to be married anymore. No one chose to leave. He was just taken. I was just left. On days like that, Hobby Lobby is not the place to go to feel better.

They don’t make cute little signs that say “Being single is awesome!” or “Alone is cool.” Nope. All the dadgum signs say stupid things like, “Always and forever” or my favorite one today, “so I can kiss you anytime I want,” and blah, blah, blah, blech. It’s enough to make a girl wanna vomit. Or maybe just sit down in the middle of the aisle and cry right there on the floor while a not-so-great instrumental version her favorite love song ever plays overhead.

Seriously, like every freaking aisle has these signs. Not one says “Widowhood: Not for the Weak,” or “Let’s grow old alone and bitter.” Because who in the world would buy those signs? They would suck. Seriously….

And in the middle of holding back the tears and writing this post in my head – because that’s how I cope, I write in my head and then on my laptop – I snapped this picture. I couldn’t get a square without getting both signs; the stupid cutesy one for couples and the one below, the one that says, “Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing.”

Dang it.

It really is an amazing life I have. A freaking amazing life. As a friend reminded me tonight, I need to focus on the things I have control over, not the things that are out of my hands. To remember that as hard as it is right now, God is not done with me. It’s all in his hands. Good advice. Here’s hoping I can follow it.

Day 595: Independent

It’s 2021 and I’m strong, independent, fierce, single-mom who’s kicking butts and taking names. Or at least, that’s what I think I’m supposed to be. I mean, that’s the cultural expectation. Do it all. Do it well. And by all means, do it by yourself.

But you guys, I just can’t. That’s not who I am right now. I’m totally dependent. When my pipes in my kitchen wall froze this week, I knew what to do. I opened the cabinets under the sink. I brought in the space heater. I turned up the heat in the house. I even got a hairdryer out and ran it up and down the wall for quite some time. You know what else I did? I called my dad to verify that I was doing the right things. I texted a couple of my friends and one of their husbands to double verify, because I doubted myself and my ability to handle things on my own.

Know what my dad did? He showed up. With a windchill that was literally 50 plus degrees below freezing, he and Joyce braved the weather and came to make sure I was taken care of. We weren’t expecting anyone to brave that cold and the snow had drifted high in front of the door. “Don’t you have a snow shovel?” he asked me. I told I didn’t know where it was. That one had burned up in our house fire a few years back and I thought I had bought a new one but I couldn’t for the life of me find it.

He called several times that day to check on the pipe situation. They did eventually thaw out (eight long hours later!) and he was really happy for me. He reminded me to keep the cabinets open and the faucet dripping.

The next day he came back over, this time with a snow shovel. And while I sat in my warm cozy bed, my daddy shoveled my sidewalk and brushed the snow off our cars. He came back again today, after we’d gotten a few more inches, and did the same. So tonight, my sidewalk is clear and my windshields are clean because my daddy is still taking care of his (44 year-old) baby girl. It makes me feel so loved.

And at the same time, it mades me mourn for my own baby girl. That when she’s in her 40s or 30s or 20’s or even the rest of her teens, she won’t have her own daddy to do these things for her. Lucky for her, our daughter is much stronger and much more independent than her momma.

Day 577: Tension

Last week I wrote about how much I miss Vance and I ended the post saying how I’m very much still in love with him. It’s true. I am. I think I always will be, no matter what happens in my life or how long I live. He’s a part of my story; a part of me that will never go away just because he’s no longer here. I don’t want to stop loving him.

That said, I find myself attracted to other men now. Men who are right in front of me, still breathing. Maybe even some much more than others. Maybe enough to take some risks and see what happens.

And there’s tension in that. Because how can I still be in love with Vance and simultaneously be thinking of pursuing someone else? There’s not an easy answer for that. I don’t know how, I just know it can. It is. My heart is big enough for that even if I can’t explain how.

I sometimes wonder if being so honest here has been a mistake. If sharing the hardest parts of my grief has made me undatable. If another man might think I could never love him well because of it. If someone would think the standard set before was unreachable because Vance was who he was. If I’ve shot myself in the foot, so to speak.

That’s just a part of the tension in documenting this journey publicly. How do I be real and vulnerable without over sharing? I’m going to be thinking about that for a while. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. I’ll always write, even if it’s just for myself. It might mean I stop sharing so much though. But it might not. What do you think? Am I too much?

Day 568: Friday

I don’t know what it was about today.

Maybe it was having to introduce myself in this semester’s classes and trying to decide what to say about my family. Talking about my kids but not my husband would likely leave the impression that I’m divorced. Mentioning that I’m recently widowed might seem like a plea for extra attention or favors. Not mentioning them at all just seems cold.

Speaking of, maybe it was the bitter cold wind this morning. It did feel like my fingers were going to fall off at recess.

Maybe it was being tired from working every day this week. I slept through my alarms and woke up late this morning. Not so late that I didn’t get to work on time, but late enough that I didn’t feel very put together.

Maybe it was not getting to share with Vance about how my week in a longer-term sub job had gone. How I’d connected with some of the kiddos and how much I was enjoying having a classroom again, even if only for a couple weeks. I’ve never had a class that I couldn’t share with Vance.

Maybe it was telling a student that yes, I was her daddy’s fourth grade teacher. And her uncle’s. And I coached her aunt’s volleyball team and my husband coached her in basketball. Maybe that walk down memory lane to our early years of marriage just triggered the wrong things today.

Maybe it was the dream I had last night. The haunting one where Vance hadn’t really died and these last 18 months were all some weird misunderstanding. The one where he came back to me, healthy. He’d been in some coma or something but it was over and he came home. Dreams are weird and the details don’t make sense. Case in point, in this crazy dream, Vance was inexplicably kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. Then I had to pay back all of the life insurance money because he was actually still alive. The weird coma and kidnapping didn’t matter. Only that he was alive mattered. Except, when I woke up, he was actually not still alive at all and even though the dream was way crazy, it was so very real. I’d seen him in my dream. Heard his voice. Touched his skin. It so very real, but when I woke up, the knowledge that it was just a dream became the most real thing in the world.

Maybe that’s why walking through the grocery store after work was excruciating. Why I wanted to collapse into a puddle when I walked by the instant oatmeal packets. Why I had to literally sing out loud the words, “You’re gonna be okay,” as I passed the frozen vegetables. Why there was something on every single aisle that made me think of Vance.

I don’t know it was about today. I just know that today I realized that I’m still very much in love with my husband.

Day 541: Christmas Eve

As I lay here tonight, on Christmas Eve, I can’t help but think about how angry I was two years ago when my husband went to bed early. He hadn’t bought very many presents, he’d wrapped even less, and Santa still had to come.

But there was Vance, fast asleep in our bed by 10 pm. The kids were up much later, and I…well, I stayed up to make the magic happen.

I was so angry that night. I felt like I’d been mistreated; unappreciated. Maybe even taken advantage of. I remember taking a picture of him sleeping and thinking about posting it with some snarky comment about how “Dad makes the Christmas magic” or something equally awful. I didn’t, but in my heart I fumed.

Vance, who woke up hours before me on a regular basis to go to work to support our family, had fallen asleep, hours past his regular bedtime. And instead of appreciating him for it, I begrudgingly filled the stockings, stuck the presents under the tree and went to bed angry.

Christmas morning I still hadn’t let it go. Of course, I hadn’t told him I was mad. He should have just known, right? But I was passive aggressive and ruined the morning for myself.

That afternoon I finally let it go and we went to the park for an epic Christmas Day Nerf battle. It was awesome. The entire family played and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Vance was good at shooting all of us but he got shot some, too.

I had no idea that would be his last Christmas. It never even occurred to me as a possibility. Nevertheless, it was.

Now, two Christmases later, I bought all the gifts, wrapped them, and I’m waiting for the kids to fall asleep so I can put the stockings under the tree.

But Vance isn’t sleeping in our bed. His side is empty. I keep thinking that I wasted our last Christmas Eve being angry about such a stupid thing as a very tired, very hard working man going to sleep. Sigh.

If you’re lucky enough to be sharing your bed with someone you love tonight, don’t waste it. Don’t be angry that he’s sleeping while you’re still up. That he didn’t get you what you wanted for Christmas even though you put it directly in your Amazon cart and all he had to do was buy it. Let that crap go. Because it doesn’t matter. It really, really doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you still have a chance to laugh together in the morning. That maybe next year he’ll buy you a kick butt gift that blows you away. That tomorrow you can kiss him goodnight and use his warm body to heat up your frozen feet. What matters is the moments you get to spend with him. Don’t waste them. Trust me. Don’t. Waste. One. Minute.

Day 527: Advent

You’ve likely seen the chocolate countdown to Christmas calendars. Or maybe a Lego one or something similar. Those are for Advent; keeping track and patiently awaiting Jesus’s birthday.

Advent is the Christian practice of preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas, and ultimately, for Christ’s return. My churches growing up didn’t really have traditions around Advent. To be honest, none of the churches I’ve ever attended have put a big emphasis on it. That’s not to say no one practices it, just that we don’t really do a lot with it on Sunday mornings.

After Vance and I got married, we started attending a Christmas Eve service with his parents at their tiny little, traditional, country, Methodist church. Most of the people there are at least a generation older than me and they hold tightly to tradition for this service. For years they sang the same songs, in the same order, with the same scriptures and the same people. One of those songs and traditions was the lighting of the Advent candles and the singing of the Advent song. I’d never seen or heard either until then. But over the next two decades, I got pretty familiar with it.

At some point, someone in a homeschool group started talking about prepping for Advent and then the tradition of the Jesse Tree was mentioned. This got my attention. I loved the idea of sharing the big stories of the Bible with my family every December. Of using the Old Testament narrative to point us to Jesus. To bring things together for us and to help us really know what and why we believe as we do.

So we bought a book and started. I don’t know now how many years we have done this, but I know it’s been a lot. My Facebook memories today reminded me that five years ago Abby and I were making Jesse Tree ornaments. We’ve had a couple different times where we have done ornament exchanges with friends. It’s a tradition that has been harder as the kids have gotten older. December is busy. Shopping, parties, wrestling, basketball, church. They all play a big part in this month. (Unless it’s 2020 when everything has been cancelled.) So it’s been hard, but it’s also been worth it. In the midst of all that busyness, we carve out time for family and Jesus. We cuddle together on the couches and take turns reading from both the Bible and the study books we used.

As time has passed, I’ve thought long and hard about writing my own Advent devotional. This year I’m going to make that happen. I’m way behind but there’s no time like the present to make a new start. Maybe I’ll even share a few of them with you here. We’ll see.

As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth this month – in this year that has been, shall we say, closer to Hell than to Heaven – let us not forget what really matters. It’s not elections or viruses or lock-downs or fake news or even racial reconciliation. (Don’t get me wrong, all of that is important. Keep doing the work. Fight the good fight.) What matters for eternity is not our Facebook status, but the status of our souls. If our souls are full of the Holy Spirit and his goodness, then as salt and light, we should be fighting with everything we have to preserve the world God created and to shine the light of truth into it. Without right hearts, it is all in vain anyway.

My prayer for you in this Advent season is that you will have a right heart. That your soul will be at peace as we end this mess that has been 2020, knowing that a new calendar isn’t going to magically make all of the chaos go away. That you will be able to celebrate and look to the Christ Child and see then Eternal King he was born to be.

Day 512: Exodus 14:14

The other day I was fighting with, err…I mean, talking to one of my kids. The conversation was a little rough. This child of mine is still hurt. Still angry that there is no longer a dad in our house.

This, along with the normal everyday teenage angst, has more than once caused a rift in our relationship and discontent in our home. I suppose all of that is normal in this situation but that certainly doesn’t make it suck any less.

This particular night though, I started off hot. I was mad because my kid had done something I didn’t approve of and when called on it (by me screaming at said kid) reacted in a disrespectful manner. As is too often the case, the next several minutes were tense; filled with one or the other of us saying things that would have been best left unsaid.

And then I heard a very clear voice in my head, no, in my spirit, saying, “The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.” It was clear as day. I needed to shut up and let the Holy Spirit do his work, rather than lose my temper and say things I shouldn’t.

So I just stopped. In a calm voice, I told my child the expectation and left the room. I went to the sink and started washing dishes. When my kid came back to fight with me some more, instead of responding, I recited this verse over and over in my head. Be quiet. The Lord will fight for you. After all, my kid knew what had been done wrong. The kid knew the consequences were appropriate. There was no need for me to continue pressing my point. I didn’t need to prove I was right. You guys know how hard that was for me, right?

After a few minutes of getting no response from me, my child began to calm down. The voice softened and eventually, the heart did as well. We made it through that night both in one piece and the next day was better, even with the consequences in place. Because I had been still.

A couple of things about this story that I think are worth mentioning.

First, Psalm 119:11 (NIV) says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” This is our primary objective in memorizing Scripture: avoiding sin. In my anger, I had been sinning. Shutting my mouth was an act of obedience. Obedience brought peace.

Secondly, I need to acknowledge that this verse was written in a specific time and place, neither of which I was a part of. This passage is actually from the Exodus story. Moses has just led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, and a furious Pharaoh, with his entire army in tow, is now pursuing them. The Hebrew people are afraid and questioning their wisdom in following Moses. In response, he tells his people,

Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today….The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.

Exodus 14:13-14

And you know what? God showed up big. He parted the Red Sea. The Hebrews walked across on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to follow, they were drowned in the waters. God protected his people, just as Moses had said.

Obviously, my situation with my beloved child was not the life or death struggle the Hebrews faced, but if you’ve ever parented a teenager, you can understand that it most certainly felt that way. In the trenches of solo parenthood, that moment was monumental. Taking a breath and knowing that I could confidently hand it to God made all the difference.

I don’t know what army you’re up against tonight but maybe, just for this moment, you need to stop fighting and be silent for a while. Let the Lord fight for you.

And if you need someone to back you up in prayer, shoot me a message. I’ll do that for you.

Day 499: 50th

Today should have been his 50th birthday. We should have had cake and pork chops and a huge party to celebrate half a century on the planet.

We would have worn black and teased him about what was left of his graying hair.

We would have sung off key and too loud and ended the song with “and Scooby-doo on Channel 2.”

We would have watched him open presents and laughed at the gag gifts.

We would have danced in the kitchen.

But we didn’t do any of those things. We had a normal, regular, pretty busy but not too bad day. I went to therapy and Taco Bell and wrestling. I talked about him just a little but thought of him all day.

I even made it all the way to nighttime before I cried. But when I saw his momma’s post, which included a photo I hadn’t seen before, I lost it for a few minutes.

I scrolled through my own photos and found the ones from his last birthday. They made me smile. He’d just come home from work. Abby had made a cake and we’d fixed all his favorite foods.

Sometimes I wish I’d known it was the last one, you know? But then, would I really have wanted to know? Would knowing have just made it harder? I guess that’s just a rhetorical question that I’ll never get an answer to.

Regardless, I’m glad Vance spent his last birthday around our table, with the family we had made, in the home we’d bought, in the life we’d built together.

I got to spend over half his life in love with Vance Crutchfield. I got two decades as his wife. No matter what comes next, I won’t forget that. I’ll always be grateful for our time together and for the unyielding way he taught me about love, grace and goodness.

I love you, Vance Crutchfield. Happy birthday, my love.