Thursday, February 19, 2015

White as Snow

Triggers…even the most unsuspecting and happiest events can trigger memories that leave me feeling like I took two gigantic steps backward. I have been so aware of the absence of Bunky over the last few days, while the boys have been out of school enjoying the snow (with a whole lot of ice mixed in).

Snow days.

Such GREAT memories here on 227 Chester Stevens Road from snow days in the past. We have such an awesome hill right behind our yard that is in a common area, and runs right down into two ponds below. It's really gorgeous. The view from the back of our home, was actually one of the biggest selling points to Bunky when we were looking at the house. It is private and has a gorgeous view year-round.

It makes for some wonderful sledding too! In fact, MANY from the neighborhood make their way to "our hill" when it snows, for some super sledding fun. We have even had friends drive in hazardous conditions from the other side of town, just to come and sled with us.

What snow days in the past have looked like for us…

The boys and their dad would spend hours playing outdoors with other neighbors. I would join them and sled some too, but my main duty was to make sure there was plenty of homemade hot chocolate and treats, ready when everyone came in to warm up and dry out. A job I was just fine to embrace, I might add. Although, I will say that I do love a good sledding hill. *Side note...The adventurous part in me comes out when I have an opportunity to sled or ride a roller coaster!

As a married couple and as parents, there are just certain roles you inadvertently take on, in every situation. So many times these aren't even spoken or are just natural and adapted over time. The way I used to enjoy watching their daddy out the window, play for hours in the snow with his boys. Building snowmen. Sledding, sledding, and more sledding. My fulfillment in bundling everyone up and then helping them get it all back off again (a process that could take as much time as the sledding itself). Board games around the table. Homemade hot cocoa with whip cream on top. Family snow ball fights. Having neighbors and friends stay for hours, until frozen fingers and toes just couldn't take it anymore.  Then, having them stay for hours more just to thaw out. Oh, and I was in charge of taking lots and lots of pictures. When 1/2 of the equation is no longer here, the realness creeps in and sucks the breath out of me. I try to adjust and focus on what I am thankful for in the midst of it. I will forever be thankful for the amazing memories we have already made and also the ones that are to come.

This year it just feels lonely. I struggle to make myself take on all the "snow day" roles well. I feel exhausted. Worn down. Not very fun. I try to make all the pieces work, but come up short because a huge part of the fun, a huge part of the team, is missing. The first day they wanted to go out and sled, I found myself choking back tears at the thought. I wasn't expecting it. Grief has a funny way of sneaking up on you in the least suspecting moments and taking your breath away. Again, thankfulness, is truly vital to how quickly I can go from feeling angry and sorry for myself or moving forward. So many times I don't do thankfulness well…but I am trying.
I definitely did more "outdoor roles" than typical, but tried to be true to my traditions. Thankfully, others stepped up and stepped in. Never taking the place of, but softening the blow, even just a little. For that I am grateful and I don't even know if they realize how they filled a gap for me, but I am thankful.

This picture was from 2010 and probably our last opportunity for a family picture with a really good snow. Snow days will always feel different, but all I can think about is the beauty of the white snow. What beauty can compare to the way Jesus' blood washes us "white as snow." This is a promise I cling to and can feel hopeful for.

Isaiah 1:18

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Honest Thoughts on Valentine's Day

Warning…if you are a hopeless romantic who loves all things "Valentine," this post will probably not be your favorite. Stop reading now and go get your LOVE on! No judgment here. 

Ohhhh, the sea of red and pink that begins to creep onto store shelves soon after Christmas decor is cleared out. Heart-shaped boxes full of chocolate, flowers, and cards just staring you in the face, everywhere you look. The display is overwhelming and I can almost hear the beautifully decorated boxes saying, "Me, Me, Pick Me." No, not really…I'm not hearing voices just yet. Although, it's not that far-fetched in my mental state these days. 

I read an article in Forbes Magazine from 2013,  which reported results from a survey conducted by BIGinsight, a consumer insights firm:

  • The average person plans to spend $130.97 on candy, cards, gifts and more.
  • Men will spend an average of $175.61, while women will spend roughly $88.78.
  • For consumers above the age of 18, total spending is expected to reach $18.6 billion.

Valentine's Day is about expectations. Ones that are usually not met. It also comes with a lot of comparisons…("what did you get for V-day?""Aren't you going out to dinner?" etc.) Therefore, disappointment is inevitable and a day that was meant for LOVE, can often end up leaving lovers; well, nothing but frustrated!

Don't get me wrong…I enjoy flowers just like the next girl. And chocolate, well, I adore chocolate whether it comes in a heart-shaped box or out of a Hershey's Syrup bottle! 

What I enjoy most…

When something is done from a place in the heart that says, 

"I care about you"
"I thought about you"
"I want you to know I love you"
"You are special"
"You have made a difference in my world"

That can happen and SHOULD happen on any given day…not just February 14th! 

I will never forget our first Valentine's Day together. Bunky brought out a brown paper sack with my Valentine's gift. He made it clear that he thought V-day was a "Hallmark" holiday, a day that forced people to go out and spend money to "say" something that should be said throughout the year. 

He always did small things for me on Valentine's day, but only because he felt like he should and he didn't want to hurt my feelings. He also didn't want to be "outdone" by anyone he might have a conversation with about it. (Did I mention comparisons and expectations?) Thankfully, he did a great job of showing me how much he loved me on a continuous basis. He validated his thoughts about V-day with actions on days other than Feb. 14th. And, honestly, I would take that any day!

So, back to the brown paper sack. Our first romantic holiday together and he pulls out two matching ALABAMA sweatshirts…one for him and one for me! If you know him at all, you know this is just who he was. He kept it real. Always. 

And do you know what that ugly matching sweatshirt spoke to me?

"I care about you"
"I thought about you"
"I want you to know I love you"
"You are special"
"You have made a difference in my world"

And one last thing…. 

"I really hope you will love Alabama football as much as I do"

This picture has so many funny memories attached to it that I just laugh out loud when I see it! Us in our matching AL sweatshirts before a game. (side note…I look like a boy here, I think! Ha)

So, while it's fun to romanticize and get caught up in Valentine's Day. I have always felt like there are more things wrong with it, than right. I have gotten more than one message this week from friends who are single, feeling all down in the dumps about Valentine's Day. They all wanted to let me know how they were feeling sorry for themselves and then thought of me (because I don't have my love here to celebrate with), and perspective was changed.

While I do SO appreciate that, I have news for everyone…it wasn't a BIG holiday in mine and Bunky's world. (That might have had a little something to do with the fact that his birthday was the day before, and in true "Rod Cook fashion," he liked all the attention on him…not to be overshadowed by the day coming after HIS big day). I remember him telling me multiple times, "I don't like commercializing my love for you." :) And, really, that's exactly what Valentine's Day does.

Finally, if it makes anyone feel better…the majority of my married friends I've talked to in the last few days are at home tonight, hanging with their kids, and not doing too much of anything! In fact, I know one couple, who the dad has even gone to the Spongebob movie with his son and friends, while mom is at home! Valentine's Day does NOT dictate your worth or how loved you are…don't ever forget that. Single. Dating. Or Married!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Another Birthday in Heaven

Today is my Bunky's birthday. We would have celebrated his 44th this year. Instead, we reflect on the mark he made on this earth during the time he was here, and rejoice knowing he is partying it up big in Heaven. So, instead of making him a birthday cake, I sat looking at his cemetery marker this morning. Such a contradiction of what I would have thought at this point in our lives. Tears felt frozen on my face. Yet, the sun was bright and brought warmth in some mysterious way. It reminded me that out of darkness, His light shines the brightest. God's comfort is always present.

I think anytime someone close to us dies sooner than anticipated, it challenges those of us who are still here to dissect what impact we are or are not having. It forces us to come to grips with our own mortality. It stirs up questions. Some that have no answers. It makes us uncomfortable. It wakes us up from our "la-la land mentality" of just being. It challenges us to make the most of every second. Every minute. Every day. 

We know all too well, that today could be our last. Our moments on this earth are fleeting and never guaranteed.

For Bunky, God's plan was for him to have the exact amount of time that he had on this earth. I believe this with all of my heart. It was no accident. No mistake. And, even though I have wrestled long and hard with this…there was nothing I could have done to stop it or make it different. 

I love the New Living Translation of Psalm 139:16, "You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed."

From the moment he took his first breath until his final breath. His time on this earth was:
  • 509 months
  • 2,211 weeks
  • 15,481 days
  • 371,544 hours
  • 22,292,640 minutes
  • 1,337,558,400 seconds
These were the numbers ordained for him, and as much as I don't like to accept the brevity of his time on earth, it still is what God planned. The period has been put at the end of the sentence. The last page of the book was read. It sounds so final. Yet, in the broader scope of Heaven and eternity, these numbers are as mere grains of sand on a vast beach. They are a vapor in the wind. A single blade of grass on thousands of miles of rolling meadows. A tiny drop of rain in a torrential downpour. A tiny flake of snow in the arctic tundras. 

It really causes me to stop and ask myself, "What am I doing in this microscopic piece of time that God allows me to be here on earth? What am I doing that will matter for eternity?

Make it matter. Make your seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years on this earth count for something bigger! I pray that I will.

I would still argue that Rod Cook lived more life in his 42 years, than many will in 82! His legacy continues to live on in big ways. I see it all around me. I can only be thankful that he was born and feel blessed that God allowed me to be a part of his story while on this earth. 

We are not guaranteed another second. One day Bunky was coaching baseball games in a tournament and the next day he was in a hospital on life-support. One hour he sat and talked with me about what we were packing for a trip, what time he wanted to sleep in until, and we laughed at some funny stories we were told about our boys that day. Just 5 hours after that, he was in our bedroom floor after suffering cardiac arrest. About 6 hours after I hugged and kissed him goodnight, I was told by a fire chief that they did not know if the paramedics would find a heartbeat or stabilize him enough to even ride in the ambulance to the hospital. I was told, "you need to prepare for the worst." And all I could think was…"PLEASE God don't take him and please don't let my boys wake up and see this right now."

My life has been changed forever. I am slowly coming to a place of peace and acceptance,   but I will never, ever be the same. My prayer is that God will bring beauty from ashes and that I will live every day like it's my last.

We miss you Rodney Lane Cook and can't wait to see you again! Happy Birthday in Heaven!