Friday, April 28, 2017

Five Months Since Ryan's Trip to Heaven

"I have to do a lost and diversion in order to get my pilot's license," Ryan said to me as we walked towards the Cessna 150 airplane he was about to fly with his flight instructor.

I trembled with excitement as I climbed into the tiny backseat. I put on my headphones and could hear the air traffic controllers talking to all the airplanes taking off the runway.

Then Ryan went through the call signs and made the approach to take off.

Wow! What a thrill!

We got up to our cruising altitude and the instructor blindfolded Ryan, turned the plane around, flew us in a completely different direction from before, waited a few minutes, then Ryan was told to take off his blindfold.

He unfolded the paper map on his lap, looked out the window, then frantically said into the microphone, "Where am I?"

I laughed out loud and responded, "You're in an airplane!"

He never lived that one down, and neither did I.

I thought about that story as I took a hike with the girls today, walking on the side of the road that Ryan was never able to drive on because they hadn't finished it before he passed away. It's one of the many things we never got to do together.

The incline of the hills in that area are pretty steep. Add to that 60 pounds of baby meat and a beefy stroller, and it's a good recipe for an excellent workout.

I thought about how he had been in Heaven 5 months already, as of yesterday, and how I feel at peace with it finally.

I took an inventory of the past five months and realized that slowly I'd begun to carve out a new life for myself and the girls, one that involved daily exercise and seeing new sights each week.

"Where are we going today?" is Talitha's new daily question after she wakes up and I think she's keen on our adventures too.

The Lord has been showing me that although I need to create new places to become our favorites, some things just won't change.

I won't ever need to have a new identity, because I have the same identity as before - "I am a new creation in Christ. The old things have passed away, and behold [He] makes everything new."

I can rely on the one true God for all of my needs.

And the Lord won't change.

But I still get a twinge when I see something that reminds of me Ryan and our old lives together. Such as the blue VW bug parked on the street where we live. We used to joke that we got points if we saw a blue one, one point per bug, and 2,000 points for any Datsun 510 station wagon.

Instead of yelling, "BLUE BUG! I GET A POINT!" I just smile, and remember old times as I look towards the future with new games and adventures.

I'm excited to see what God has in store for me!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Whiskers

"I cleaned my toilet!" I told my friend, after months of neglect.

I felt like I deserved an award or something, but nothing came in the mail that day. Nor did I receive any congratulatory banner waved at a parade. My minor feat of accomplishment passed by without notice by anyone but myself.

But my sink was a different story. As I was beginning to clean it, my heart froze at the sight I laid eyes on within inches of Ryan's sink:

a single, solitary whisker.

Ryan used to clean his sink with a toothbrush (and for the record, many other items around the house he did that with, which is why we never threw away used toothbrushes, like, EVER).

But somehow, he missed that one the day I took him to the hospital for the last time.

I opened the medicine cabinet to get ready that morning, then other whiskers peered out of their hiding places, smiling at me. If they could speak, they would say:

"He misses you too, you know."

(I miss him so much sometimes, my heart feels like it will burst through my chest.)

"He didn't want the Cancer to take him out."

( I know, he said this quite often to me. And I didn't want that for him, either.)

"He fought long and hard to stay here for you and the girls."

(I am so in awe of the lengths he went to in order to stay here with us longer. I respect that man more than ever, now.)

"He is REALLY enjoying Heaven in his new body, spending time with Jesus right now."

(Jealous.)

"You will get to be with him soon enough."

(Can't wait! It gives new meaning to the scripture I read today in Philippians which says, "To live is Christ and to die is gain.")

"You promised him you would take care of those girls, and that's your job now."

(I did. And I will. It just sucks to be me right now. Grieving me isn't a happy camper.)

"He wouldn't want you to be sentimental about us, you know."

And yet, of all the ridiculous things to be sentimental over, wiping away the last of the hairs that grew from the very face of the man I loved more than my own life,

 just hasn't happened yet.

Because they are such beautiful reminders of him that I get to see.

Every. Day.

No one else comes into my bathroom, so I don't need to worry about wiping away the hairs that once annoyed me,

hairs I took for granted.

God says he numbers even the very hairs on our heads - and those whiskers are among what was counted by God when Ryan was alive.

And now those few hairs count more than most things in my life at the top of my importance list, because they belonged to the man I dearly loved who is no longer with me.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The New Pet

"Sweetie Pie, can you bring the cage when you come, you know, the one we had for Lumpy?" Ryan asked me, with a sing-song lilt in his voice.

"Why, what did you catch?" I asked, completely curious as to his request.

"Well, remember that sweet rodent we saw when we were hiking that one time?" Ryan asked me.

"Of course I do!" I said getting excited.

"Well, he's furry like the pocket mouse!" Ryan exclaimed. "So are you going to bring the cage?" he asked me.

"I might have to buy another one, but I will definitely bring a cage," I said, very excited. "I can't wait to meet our new pet!"

"Is it a pocket mouse?" I asked.

"I'm not telling," Ryan said, adding to the surprise.

I remember that hike vividly. We went on a hike, mid-day in the spring time in Aliso Viejo, a few years into our marriage when we lived in the Irvine condo. We decided to hike that trail because some friends had recommended it to us.

We got about 1,000 yards into our hike when Ryan yelled for me to: "STOP RIGHT NOW!"

"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" I asked in a very irritated voice. He usually wasn't so pushy, and I wasn't in the mood. It was hot and I was looking forward to getting the conversation going.

"Look down," Ryan said.

And when I looked down, there stood one of the scariest scorpions I'd ever laid eyes on. It was pretty darn huge and it looked grumpier than me, which I didn't think was possible.

"Wow, thanks for that," I told Ryan, hugging him tightly around the waist. "You saved me."

We walked along the rest of the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the cooler air, after the sun had dipped behind the hills.

Ryan got a little bit ahead of me, and I was lost in my thoughts anyhow.

He walked over a large, brown stick, laid out perpendicular to the trail without incident.

But then he stopped cold.

I found it somewhat odd, and then he turned around and responded:

"Um, make sure you walk AROUND the rattlesnake in the path instead of over it, like I just did," he said nonchalantly.

Of course I freaked out, but I followed his instructions.

Scenarios of snake bites, how far away we were from civilization and all that a recovery from a snake bite would take played over and over in my mind, and I told Ryan some of it. He assured me we would be just fine because that snake was fast asleep.

As evening turned to night, we had to trudge up a pretty steep embankment, using the run off gutters from a residential area in order to get back to civilization. When we turned up one side to go to another, a pocket mouse snuggled into the crook of Ryan's shoe.

"Awww, look at this guy!" Ryan said.

"He's so cute," I said. "Can we take him home with us?"

The pocket mouse ran to me, and snuggled into my shoe too, warming me from the inside out.

The little guy ran back and forth between us, and we just stood there, holding hands and admiring the black and grey ball of cute fluffiness that he was.

"No, these mice do better in the wild," Ryan said. "But he really is cute."

We probably stood there for a good 15 minutes before climbing up to the top of the hill, exhausted from the hike but accomplished from completing it.

"Now we have to hike down this residential street to get back to our car," Ryan said.

As he led the way, he walked through a massive, complicated spider web with the biggest spider I'd ever seen on the West coast of America.

"Ugh," he exclaimed as he tried to disentangle himself from it. "Why do I always seem to walk through those?"

It was true, Ryan always seemed to find the spider webs wherever we went. I'm unsure if it was his large 6'1" frame with broad shoulders or not, but he was a magnet for spider webs,

We eventually made it back to our car that night, having walked many miles that day.

I reflect on how that trip was a picture of our marriage. There were many pitfalls waiting at our feet to destroy our marriage, like the scorpion and snake, full of deadly poison, threatening our very lives as we hiked through life together.

Then, the scriptures became alive when I read Jesus' words in Luke 10:18-20:

"And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.""

Then, after stepping over the power of the enemy and avoiding that pain, there were times of absolute sweetness, like the short time with the pocket mouse. holding each other and just enjoying being together.

Afterwards, Ryan was attacked with Cancer, like the spider web he walked through, and unfortunately it clung to him and wouldn't let go. Eventually the Cancer, like the web, wrapped itself in and through his lungs, choking out his ability to breathe and live.

Coming back to the present moment, I thought back to how he had asked me to get him a cage for the cute new pet he got for us at one of his client sites up in Valencia.

"Ok, I will see you in an hour and a half, and I'm so excited that I just can't wait!" I told him before I hung up the phone.

"Love you, bye," I said, as we always did before we hung up.

"Love you, bye," he said back.

When I met him and one of his co-workers in the parking garage near the restaurant we were going to for dinner, I was on pins and needles.

"Are you ready?" he asked me, almost giddy.

"I am!!!" I exclaimed as I was about to burst.

And with that, he opened the cardboard box to have the largest tarantula I'd ever seen climb out quickly onto the top of one of the folds of the boxes, directly for me.

My face must have changed from happy to horrified in nano-seconds as I let out the loudest scream I could.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I screamed.

And the echo of my scream was heard for a good two minutes after meeting our new pet whom Ryan lovingly named "Harry."

I was very grumpy again, crossing my arms and having an accusatory tone when I scolded him, "But you told me he was a pocket mouse!"

"No, I said he was LIKE the pocket mouse," Ryan laughed, as his eyes danced with glee. He really loved to make me mad because he always thought it made me look hot. And he was enjoying every second of my displeasure.

"Isn't he as cute and fuzzy as the pocket mouse?" Ryan asked, snuggling me and putting Harry back in the box.

"No," I said, while feigning anger. Although I was a little mad, I always melted when he put his arms around me.

We always joked about that surprise meeting and how Ryan really got me that time.

I will miss that.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Dust Has Settled

The tears ran hot, streaming down my face.

"I long to be with you, Lord," I prayed in the early morning hours of another depressing Wednesday.

"And I long to be with Ryan too," I cried. The tears wouldn't stop and I didn't really want them to.

I had asked God for forgiveness that morning, for the anger I had in being left to fend for our family, without Ryan. I had a nasty habit of taking my anger out on those closest to me, and Ryan used to be able to redirect, talk me down and help me focus on what mattered. But without him, I had no buffer between the world and my inner turmoil, at the seething anger I felt from God taking Ryan from me, from me having to parent alone and other issues from my past.

This wasn't the plan.

The night before, I had hired a babysitter, then quickly returned home. I'd piled all of Ryan's things,  (when Ryan used to do this, I'd call him my "pilot" and he often returned the favor) as well as the mountain of paperwork from the past year into boxes, bags and any other container I could find.

But I knew it was time to move those things into the garage and clear away the clutter in my room, closet and heart.

I turned on some unconventional worship music, and as soon as a certain song played, I had to drop to my knees, sobbing on Ryan's side of the bed. I also had a big pile of folded laundry there, in the shape of a body, waiting to be taken care of but a placeholder for the empty void underneath.

I instantly blamed God for my problems, the messes and voids in my life, my being "stuck" in a place lacking inertia.

But then I thought back to how I had heard these words from the Lord over the years:

2013: "Move,"

2014: "Change,"

2015:"Grow,"

2016: "Settled," and "Contentment" and "Gratitude"

2017: "Be" and "Joy" and "Peace"

I knew that if I wanted to be the attitude or attribute I desired to have changed, I had to take some steps to move forward. I knew this change process would take years, not minutes, hours, days, weeks or months. But in taking years to shape my character and grow me, I would have to be involved in the process, learning to discipline myself, as Elisabeth Elliot said in her book called Discipline which I'd just finished. I would need self-control to do the actions God was calling me take.

And when God and I completed the work, I could be sure the fruits of that labor would be a sense of being settled, having absolute contentment, to just be who I am, grateful for my place in life and have the Lord's joy and peace, regardless of my circumstances.

I asked God for strength to complete my task, wiping off my tears and rising to my feet. It didn't stop me from yelling at Him, asking Him what He was doing with my life. But I knew He was able to take all of my anger, and answer me through His scriptures.

I quietly asked for forgiveness for my harshness, and rebuked myself for being flippant with the Creator of the universe. But my pastor said God could handle all of me, and up until that point, I hadn't shared all of my feelings with God. I was surprised to find He could handle it, all of it, all of me and didn't feel any abandonment whatsoever, like I had expected to.

Later that night, exhausted from my cleaning spree, a painful massage on the slipped discs in my back and an emotionally draining session at my grief class where everyone shared pictures of their deceased loved ones, I walked to my bathroom sink to brush my teeth. I threw something away under Ryan's sink, a habit I'd formed long ago when the trash under my sink filled, and as I stood at his sink, I noticed a blanket of dust had settled onto his faucet.

I instantly started crying again, lamenting that Ryan would never be standing there to use it again, to stand next to me as we brushed our teeth at the same time, clanked deodorant like we were clinking glasses to say "Cheers!" or using q-tips that he would dish out for both of us after our daily showers together.

But then I noticed something about the dust:

it had settled.

God had settled the matter when He gave His only begotten Son to be crucified to save all of humanity from their sins over 2,000 years ago.

God took Ryan home to be with Him in glory, and settled Ryan's battle with Cancer on 11/27/16.

But my process of becoming settled was just beginning.

"It's a process you just have to endure," someone told me about going through my grief over losing Ryan, three weeks after he died and my feelings began to overwhelm me.

"But I read all these books on grief and hospice and the dying process in my 20's and became an expert to some extent," I lamented, crying.

They laughed. "No, no, no Anna, you can't just read about this. You just have to go through it," they told me.

"But I almost have my list of things done around the house and now I don't have anything else to do," I said, sobbing.

"Well, you gave it a good run," they said, laughing at my child-like logic. "You tried to outrun your grief. But you can't just keep busy to outrun it. You just have to go through it," they reminded me.

Four months after Ryan's death, I resolved, once again, to endure the path set before me, the one I didn't like, want or desire. The unknown future laid out, completely obscured from my view.

"What am I going to do?" I asked God, silent tears falling quickly down my face.

Trust in the Lord, was the reply.

"I can't do this anymore," I told God, looking to the side, knowing full well I could, and I had to, even if just for the sake of the kids.

I can do all things through Christ who give me strength, was the reply.

"I'm not happy about this," I cried to God, begging Him to take away my sorrow and hurt in my heart over my dead husband.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it, was the reply.

"Which way do I go?" I asked Him, wondering about a few action steps I'd taken to move forward.

But I knew the answer to that one. He'd already said yes as I had made plans to busy myself in the upcoming fall with good distractions and healthy diversions.

"What about childcare?" I asked God, afraid of His answer.

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, was the reply.

"How can I be more like my widow friend who really has a great attitude about her life?" I asked God, wondering how I could ever get better than the messy puddle I felt like.

Let the peace of God rule in our hearts... and be thankful, was the reply.

"How long will it all take, God?" I asked with childlike impatience, wanting to know His plans for my future.

Wait on the Lord, be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the Lord, was the reply.

"So what do I do in the meantime?" I asked, stumbling through my prayer like a kindergartner who attempts to make her way through school on her very first day of that completely new experience.

Be still, and know that I am God, was the reply.

That settled it for me. I had a plan. I didn't know what the plan was, or who it involved or what it looked like. But I knew Who would walk me through it, step by step, for the entire journey until the day it was my turn, and I would get to go Home and finally be reunited with the Man of my dreams and the man that I love.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Back of the Line

"Ryan Waters," the nurse at City of Hope said.

It was the last nurse to ever call out his name at City of Hope hospital. And not because he was next for a doctor's appointment there, but because he was last on the list at the memorial service City of Hope hosted the other day.

As I watched his name scroll up the screen, the last in a long line of patients who had lost their lives in 2016 at City of Hope, I was reminded of a fun story Ryan told me about his childhood.

The kids had been looking forward to a pizza party at his Christian school in the third grade. He attended Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa elementary school and just loved it (except for when he and his friends got spanked by the principal for playing The Incredible Hulk, but that wasn't his fault, really).

The party was announced for his class and the kids all rushed to get in line. Pushing and shoving, Ryan slowly walked to the back of the line. More and more kids cut in front of him and some of the others in front of him, just so they wouldn't have to be last.

Ryan just walked to the back, because he said he was happy to wait because he knew there would be pizza for him and he was going to be just as happy eating it when it became his turn.

The teacher, watching Ryan's behavior calmed the eager and excited class down, and made an announcement. She said:

"Class, I'm going to teach you an important scripture today. "He who is last shall be first, and he who is first, shall be last." I want everyone to turn around and face the opposite direction."

Ryan said that the moment she said that, he was so pleased. He gladly accepted being first in line at that moment. And he never forgot that Biblical principle, throughout his life, typically waiting patiently for things he knew would eventually happen or come to his turn. He was just as content at work cleaning up the shop after hours, as he was running an important business meeting with clients and coworkers.

I was talking to a friend at a party recently, who had some difficulties in her marriage (who doesn't??) and told her about the beginning of our marriage versus the end of it.

In the beginning, Ryan and I were pretty harsh with each other, and had fought about petty things, in our desire to always be right, and be the first to point out each other's flaws and foibles.

But as the years rolled by, Ryan's increasing attitude of contentment, humility and selflessness grew. He learned how to love me better as each year passed, placing himself second in our relationship, until at the end, all he wanted was what I wanted (e.g. date nights, time talking together and sharing words of affirmation, hand holding, learning more about loving God and each other, etc.).

I began to learn to change my attitude in these three areas as well, mostly because he, as a servant leader, began to show me just how much they helped him to grow, but I was a lot less mature than Ryan and stumbled through my attempts in these areas.

He was last on the memorial service list that day at City of Hope. But Ryan Waters was the first one to get to Heaven of us two, after teaching me that patience, contentment, humility, selflessness, and love all play a huge part in the most important part of living life.

And now, the Teacher has told me to turn around. Instead of pushing and shoving my way to the front in order to reach Heaven first, I'm in the back of the line now, behind all of the others who are going before me.

The Teacher has told me it's time for me to learn how to be patient as I wait for my turn in Heaven, and learn to cultivate attitudes of contentment, humility and selflessness, and learn to love others better than I love myself.

All I can think about is, now that I'm here without my change partner, I certainly have a very long way to go.