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RINGING IN THE NEW

At first, I wasn’t going to jump on the BestNine2015 bandwagon and then…I did…and I’m glad I did.

After taking less than 5 minutes to follow the steps and three days of leaving the photo in my phone’s folder, I decided to share it on New Year’s Eve day. At first, I was stuck on the fact that the “nine best” are considered the best because it puts together the most popular nine photos in your Instagram feed, chosen by your followers. I got in my feelings a little wondering if other folks could really tell me what my best was. Should I give this much weight, is it really worth the consideration?

When I let it sit and journaled some of my thoughts about my hesitations, I came to the conclusion that it was more than alright for me to share these photos BECAUSE they were what folks had liked most.

Even though I shared about reading my Bible, traveling, drinking out of cute mugs, books I’d read and some I’d reviewed, blog posts, adventures we’d had, Star Wars (there were PLENTY of posts about Star Wars) these nine photos generated the most “likes” or “support”.

And that made me a little sad. Let me explain…

1 | A photo of my deceased Marine husband hugging me on their day of deployment in June of 2004.

Some things happened that made me doubt his love for me and when I posted this photo this year, I didn’t wonder any longer if he loved me, but I did wonder if he knew he wasn’t ever going to come home.

2 | Our 16yo son at Snowball Express (SBE) V.

As he’s entering an establishment that offered us a ton of fun and laughter, he stopped and shook the hands of every single person in line there to honor us and our fallen service members. We’ve been attending SBE for nine years and he’s never done anything like this before. I was so proud of him. It was noticed by others who spoke to me about it. Such growth. It makes me tear up thinking about it.

3 | Me speaking at the big fundraiser – Grand Slam Charity Jam –  for Camp Hometown Heroes in Wisconsin.

We’d had smaller audiences, but this was an opportunity that pulled together a lot of folks (about 800) who were going to be coming out of their pockets to support this camp we are so grateful for and have such valuable, personal experiences with. I remember being stuck on what to share.

Waiting for my son in the car after school one day close to the event, I prayed that God would give me clarity and direct what He would have me share. It was short and sweet and apparently powerful and to this day, I wish that whomever recorded it would share it with me.

4 | My 16yo taking a selfie with Aaron Rodgersplease watch this short video.

All I can say is that it was a great experience for him and the other children and that it made me respect Aaron Rodgers as a person more than a player. The behind-the-scenes stuff brought us closer to some amazing people who handled our losses with such gentleness and respect and love that their unseen work and demeanor was a part of making this a healing experience for us.

5 | Us at the UW-Wisconsin vs. Alabama game at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX with our really new WI friends. 

This was a surprising story…

One day before our move to TX, I was sitting outside of a Starbucks and met a woman wearing a TCU hat. We struck up a conversation which got extended when she went to get her gorgeous dog out of the car. Turns out the dog would be a comfort dog at the camp I mentioned above. Later, I was introduced to another one of the dog’s handlers whose son would be on the coaching team at University of North Texas – where my son wants to attend college.

We got together to meet the dog and another handler and my son met the dog again at camp and we stayed in touch. In the fall, we had her coach son over for dinner for a home cooked meal and video games and they invited us along for the Badgers vs. Bama game. It was a loss on the scoreboard, but so good to be around Badger fans and this good God delivered love.

6 | A Starbucks mug from Canada.

I’ve never been to Canada and didn’t even know that the friend who sent the mug to me was in Canada, but was INCREDIBLY EXCITED when it arrived. You see, I collect these mugs. But my rule with myself is that I need to have been there, I can’t just have touched down in the airport or order it online.

This friend is the wife of my Marine husband’s commanding officer while in Iraq. Since they’ve returned, she has been patient and diligent in building a relationship with me. Loving me from afar with encouraging words, keeping our Marine’s service and life alive in honoring him and the other fallen; she has been patient love. And though she’d told me hundreds of times in the most subtle ways that she cared for me – the single mom raising this young man – this way of showing it brought me to tears.

7 | The artwork above his bed.

When we moved to TX, I hired a designer to help stage our apartment. When she came through to look at our space, she saw the Gold Star flag, medals our Marine had earned and one of the now folded flags that was once draped over his coffin at his funeral. I’d told her that I wanted to do something different in honoring the sacrifice and ensuring that our son had visual access to his dad in many different ways.

The designer insisted on commissioning an artist who made this beautiful picture that sits above my son’s bed. The design team came over and did a reveal; it was so powerful for all of us and the photo is still above his bed today.

8 | Us in a gift shop in Playa Del Carmen. 

The holidays have been difficult since the death of my husband. I’ve tried escaping in many ways, but traveling has always been my favorite choice.

This year, we went to Mexico for 5 days with two other families who lost their loved one. Our connection was through the bond our kids made at Camp Hometown Heroes three years ago. It was so good to laugh and swim and bask in the sun with our kiddos and these other moms who I consider really good friends.

9 | A Michael Reagan sketch.

We buried my husband in August of 2005 and it took me until this year to ask Mr. Reagan for his services for our fallen hero.

For so many reasons that I myself don’t even fully understand, I just wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to have this picture, to possess it. To officially be a part of his huge repetoire of pictures like this. Maybe it would mean it was permanent or really real or something that I am still having a difficult time explaining. It was well done and we are grateful (he does these free of charge).

___

After revisiting these nine photos again and again over those three days, it came to me why I was hesitant about posting them.

Every single one of these favored shots linked me to the death of SSgt. Chad J. Simon and all of the hurt that came with it and still lingers as a result.

And the realization that is time for me to move some more steps further from this.

Not to forget him or the lessons I learned from him or the stories and experiences and love that I know were true, but to no longer be (or feel) most identified as the wife of a man who is never coming back. Ever.

So with that, I’m stepping into 2016 eager for NEW experiences that will give me the courage to stand more firmly on the ground of who I am becoming, not who I was or who I was married to.

We miss him. I miss him. The grief still swings up and snatches me back into the deep hurt some days, but less often.

And now, after 10 years of mourning and living partially, it is time for me do this differently. I will not stop talking about him or the experiences, pain and even blessings that came as a result of having to live life without him (there ARE blessings that come from wrestling with death), but it is time for me to step out on both feet in faith that there is more. I will not give up my Gold Star family, they have been invaluable in helping us to grieve and grow and laugh and take steps together. I will not stop attending things that my son wants to go to that help him grieve and honor his father and I will not stop sharing in private settings and with friends about his sacrifice, the blessings we’ve received as a result of my being married to him, the Marine Corps love we’ve received and the growing up that has had to come from making difficult decisions and learning to honestly walk in the loss and choices I’ve made as a result.

What I’ve embraced is that I don’t have to give up all of those things to make space for the new. I have all kinds of resolutions and goals (here’s some guidance if you’re looking: steps 1, 2 and 3) and hopes and priorities for the new year. In order to live them, it’s time to step a little further from the devastating hurt and in our healing and growing strength move toward serving and loving others.

It’s just time. And I’m so very excited about it!

So here’s to ringing in the NEW year, in NEW ways, with a NEW focus. 2016, here we come!!!

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