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.

Day 497: Ready. (Maybe)

I think I’m ready. Maybe.

For what? Dating. Maybe.

Whew. Putting that out there is more than a little terrifying.

Because here’s what I’m not ready for. Dick pics. (Sorry, Grandma, but they’re a real thing these days. Gag.) Creeps. Guys who think that means I want to jump into bed with them. Because this girl right here, she’s never going to ready for those things.

But having a nice dinner with a man I find attractive? I’m in. Holding hands while counting the stars? Totally up for it. Getting a good morning or good night text? Bring it on. A godly man’s perspective on raising these kids? Please.

I want to stand beside someone I care deeply about during worship and know that he’s the one God has for me in this time. I want a man to pray with me, for me and over me. I’m ready for someone to love me enough to put me in check when I need it. To encourage me to do the hard things. To tell me to slow down and to hold me while I cry. I’m ready for a new best friend.

It’s terrifying to even think about because I’m….well, I’m a lot. Loving me will take a really strong man. I’m a bit high maintenance and a bit set in my ways. Most days I’m basically a dumpster fire who tries to hand out free tacos and compliments while wearing sweats and no make-up. I’m strong willed. I like to think I’m independent, when really I just have the strongest desire need to be well taken care of.

Also, I don’t a want to be hurt. My heart has been broken in a way I didn’t know it could and I don’t know how much more it can take. But I know that without being vulnerable, I’ll just continue to be alone. I’ve got too much life left for that, so I’m gonna put myself out there. And when the right guy comes along, I’m gonna pray that I recognize him for who is. And, please, please, please, God, let him see me for who I am. And let him love me anyway.

So there’s that. I’m ready. Maybe.

Day 510: Headstone

Before, if you would have told me that a year would go by before I could even finalize a headstone, I would have said you were crazy. How could such a simple thing take so long?

Because it’s not a simple thing at all, that’s how!

There are like a hundred bajillion different things you can do with a headstone these days. Every single one of them has financial implications as well.

  • Single or Double? Do I bury him alone or do I plan to add my body to this space later?
  • Color? Traditional? Modern black?
  • Shape? Flat? Tall? Round? Custom?
  • Font? Traditional? Trendy?
  • Built in vases? One or two?
  • Picture or no picture? If yes, which one? How many? Color or black and white?
  • Quotes or no? Which one(s)? Where?
  • Kids names or no?
  • My name? Our anniversary?

I am not kidding when I say that they even have the option of adding a QR code that takes you to a custom website. There are a lot of choices!

Right after Vance died I couldn’t make any more decisions. Especially not ones that would literally be carved in stone.

And so it took me exactly one year to decide. July 3, 2020 I finally sent in the design I picked out for Vance. As with most things this year, because of covid, it took quite a while after that for things to get finished on the production side, but here we are. 143 days later, and his stone is finally set.

Here’s hoping his legacy is just as well preserved.

Day 495: Game Day

Since Vance died, I’ve struggled with some really obvious things but also some things I had no idea would be so hard.

One of those has been walking in to the kids’ sporting events alone. Driving myself to games, paying the gate fee and then trying to decide where to sit has caused way more anxiety than I ever imagined. I’m not sure why that is. I walk into church without the least bit of anxiety and have since almost the very beginning.

I’m not exactly an introvert. I’ll talk your ear off if you let me. But I’m also not as confident as you might imagine. Every single time I walk alone into a game venue, I have no idea where to sit.

I usually stand, almost paranoid, while I search for not just familiar, but friendly faces. I see groups of friends, already sitting and talking and like a junior high girl trying to decide which lunch table to sit at, I have no idea if they’ll accept me. Am I unwelcome in breaking into their group? Do they want me? Should I just sit over in the corner by myself? What if I sit down and no one talks to me?

This happens even with people I know will welcome me. People who have been nothing but kind. Friends, even. There’s just something about this particular activity that freezes me up like a ninth grade boy wanting to ask a pretty girl to dance. It’s way harder than it should be.

For my high school kids’ fall sports I figured out how to make it work. Most of the time I had a good friend or two that I knew would be there and I either rode with them or planned to meet up with them. That helped a lot for away games. Home football games, though? They tensed me up like my kids’ first time driving on the interstate. So many places to sit. So many people to walk by. Post season, I finally made plans with to sit with a friend and it eased my anxiety so much, just knowing that I wouldn’t have to sit alone.

Now cross country and football are over. Middle school wrestling has begun and high school meets are just around the corner. Once again, I have to figure out a plan. Who can I ride with? Where can I sit? I already have anxiety about it and I haven’t even had to go to a meet alone yet.

So, I guess what I’m saying is if you’re going to a middle school, high school boys or high school girls meet this season and see me standing in the doorway of the gym, smile at me under your mask and if it’s okay, wave me over. Because I’m gonna need that reassurance all over again. Because walking in all alone is harder than it should be.

Day 467: Loud

I didn’t grow up in a sports family. I mean, yes, we played rec sports and watched an occasional game on TV, but none of it was really important during my childhood. I mean, I kind of thought it was, but I really didn’t know how wrong I was until I got married.

Because I married a Crutchfield. And Crutchfields are sports people. Vance was a loud sports fan. Watching Sunday afternoon games at his parents’ house took some getting used to for me because he would often suddenly just scream at the TV. A touchdown, an interception, or a sack would have him jumping up and down, clapping or yelling.

When he coached, he would often tell the new kids, “I’m loud. Don’t let it scare you. I’m loud but I’m not mean.” He wasn’t wrong. His booming voice could always be heard across the gym, field, pitch or mat. And almost always, the message he was sending was positive. “Good! Good!” accompanied by one or two loud claps.

Friday night I went a high school football game. My daughter is cheering this year and I love being able to watch her.

At this particular game, they were really strict about all the covid regulations. Masks, temp checks, limited spectators, and even separate bathrooms and concessions for the visitors. Because of this, the bathrooms were about a jillion miles away from the bleachers. And of course, I had to pee with just a few minutes left in the game.

As I was making my way back to the crowd I heard a loud, deep voice yell out from the stands, “Go get ’em, boys!” I was still a long ways off from the stands but I heard it clear as day. And it made me smile.

For the first time in a long time, something reminded me of Vance and it didn’t make me cry. It didn’t even make me feel sad.

Obviously, the voice wasn’t his. I mean, that was impossible. I knew that. Shoot, I knew exactly whose voice it was. It was a dad, cheering for the boy he loves playing in the game he loves. It was positive. It was ridiculously loud. It was perfect. It was exactly what Vance would have done.

And that made me smile.

Day 448: Solo

Yesterday I wrote about being alone but not alone. It got me thinking about the verbiage we have concerning people without partners, parents in particular.

Mostly we hear about single parents. I’m talking here about people who are not married (or in a marriage like relationship) but are coparenting. They have to make a lot of decisions on their own but when push comes to shove, they do have someone to at least bounce things off of. Maybe they get a weekend “off” when the kids are at the other parents’ house. They split daycare costs and health insurance. For better or worse, they have a parenting partner.

I fully understand that this can come with its own challenges and am in no way diminishing the hard that comes with single parenting or the ache one must feel knowing their babies aren’t under their roof and/or protection. I can’t even imagine that. I’ve never been a single parent.

What I am now, I think, is just ever so slightly different. I’m a solo parent. Solos are created when a spouse dies, but also in cases of abandonment and sometimes divorce. These are the parents who are doing it…well, solo. They are the ones who make all the rules. Who pay all the bills. Who have only one person on their kids’ school contact forms.

These are the parents who always get the phone call and then have to decide how to handle whatever it brings. The call from the school. The police. The hospital. The kid who just wrecked the car. The friend who saw something sketchy and isn’t sure how to handle it. The broken hearted kid who just got dumped. All the calls.

This is not to say I was lying on yesterday’s post. I meant it when I said, alone but not alone. God and my peeps, you know. They’ve got my back and I know it.

But as awesome as they are, when that phone rings and I need immediate support, my default is gone. The automatic of a partner isn’t there and that can be a really hard thing. I have to decide if and who to share with each and every time. Sometimes I just have to pull up the big girl panties and get it done -solo.

And that can be really lonely.

It can also be stinking awesome. I’d be lying if I said there were no upsides to rolling solo. You can decide to take a midwinter trip to Mexico and so long as it’s not during a world-wide pandemic, no one can stop you. You can say yes or no to holidays with the family. You can sleep on whichever side of the bed you want!

But sometimes even those things can feel a little lonely.

Tonight, I salute you, fellow solos. You, parent, who dealt with a quarantined teenager for two weeks, solo. You, dad, who figured out how to talk about puberty with his teenage daughter, solo. You, mom, who is showing her boys how to become men, solo. I see you. I applaud you. I’m stinking jumping for joy that you’re making it!

You. Are. Freaking. Awesome.

Don’t you dare let anyone tell you otherwise. If they try, send them my way. I got your back, fellow solo. Together, we can make a great duo!

***And yes, that’s a picture of a Solo cup, because well…the other option was Han and that would be a copyright infringement. 🤷‍♀️