Back to the Beach

It’s been almost a year since Michael and I last came to the beach house. Returning is filled with uncertainties. I always looked forward to coming here. Especially this time of the year – when most of the vacationers have gone home and we have our little beach town back. The days are cooler and it’s like music to hear the breeze rustle through the palm trees.

I remember in 2001 when we decided it was time to buy our own place here. We’d come here every summer for ten years, renting big houses with other families and creating wonderful memories for all our children. That particular trip we decided to spend some time looking at houses for sale in different neighborhoods and spent a long day with friends getting in and out of the car at every open house sign we saw. As we came through this area, only recently developed, we stopped at a particular house for sale. Michael was tired and didn’t even get out the car. When I walked in the house I remember the openness of it but was immediately struck by the view of the little lake in the back. I immediately told Michael he had to come see it.

We tried to negotiate the purchase and couldn’t come to terms with the owner. So in the next few months we decided on a lot around the corner. Michael was sure he could take what we saw in that house and make it better. And he certainly did – 5000 feet of beach house, enough to sleep 22, pool, decks and balconies, wide open den and kitchen with lots of room for laughter and conversation.

From the time we broke ground we loved all that was involved in making this our family place. Friends would drive down here with us every few weeks to meet with the contractor and see the progress. They lovingly nicknamed it the BABH (the Big Ass Beach House – haha) and helped us to think through and plan on colors and furnishings. And then they made the trip with us to move in and assemble all the furniture and accessories.

From the first week we moved in, the house was filled with voices and laughter, kids running in and out and large meals prepared in the kitchen. Nineteen of us were here that first week. And in the years since, I couldn’t count how many people have come through these doors. There have been vacations, spring breaks, bridal and baby showers, bachelorette parties, golf cart parades, honeymoons, family reunions and New Year’s Eve celebrations. During Katrina we moved here for a month, complete with friends and family from both sides, enrolled the kids in school here and saw our family members get jobs here. We set up our office in our master bedroom and I still remember falling asleep at night to the glow of the computer screen as my little sister would be typing in payroll and accounts payable.

Now I return to the house without Michael, and yet he is here in everything I see. There are not as many family pictures here as at home, but so many memories. The giant blue marlin on the wall that he caught off the coast of Puerto Rico and the bill from the marlin he caught in Hawaii. (The tacky blue marlin pillows on the sofa that he bought and I always wanted to get rid of.) The copper fish that line the walls we found at a road side artist shack on a trip to the Keys. The glass sailboat and rainbow fish, both special treasures brought back from trips to Murano glass factories.

And so many other little things. Several of his shirts hang in the closet. His swimsuit lays on the shelf. His shoes are on the floor and his golf clubs stand in the corner. He would have loved the colors of the water today and the wonderful breeze on the beach road. And the lunch at one of our favorite beach restaurants would have been his first stop. The golf cart is there ready for him to check out the neighborhood and shuttle people to the beach.

And already there are changes since we were here about a year ago. A few businesses have closed. A few new ones are opening. A new house is being built around the corner and he would love to go check it out. His prized blueprint of the Titanic is framed and hanging on the wall just where he wanted it, though he never got to see it there.

I’m so thankful for friends who walk beside me in these days to revisit this place with both laughter and tears. While it’s hard to return, I cannot imagine not coming back. This place is such a part of our family and our memories. And every time we came here we talked about how thankful we were that God had provided this place for us. The years to come will not be the same. But I pray that God will continue to make this a place of rest and refreshment for our family and our extended family. As Michael always said, “My dear looooooves her beach house!”


I can’t remember how many times I had this talk with God over the years.  Sometimes I would be driving around by myself or listening to music.  So many times I can remember telling God I was willing to be used by Him and to serve him.  But I just asked Him not to take Michael away from me.  I always felt like I could do anything He asked as long as Michael and I were doing it together.  And so many times during that conversation I’d think, “You know this is just what God will do. He’ll take Michael away because you depend too much on him, rather than on God.”  Nonetheless, I would ask God to show us whatever He wanted us to do, but leave us together.

Michael and I loved our life together.  We loved serving God.  We loved growing with people and using what God had given us to help other people in their lives.  We loved being able to share our faith, our struggles, our triumphs, our finances.  We looked forward to using the farm to feed people who couldn’t afford fresh food.  We wanted to build some small retreat cabins for church staff to have a quiet place to retreat and refresh.  We thought there would be so many other things for us to do to serve God together.

So these days I find myself feeling betrayed.  I feel betrayed that God wouldn’t allow us to continue together.  I feel betrayed that we tried to minister and serve together, yet God took Michael away.  I feel betrayed that the one thing I asked God not to do, He did – or at least He allowed it to happen.  God forgive me, I feel betrayed.

In church I hear and sing words about God’s love and His mercy.  And my head knows the words are true, but my heart just cries with this feeling of loss and betrayal.  Everyone around me seems to be able to sing the words and mean them, but to me the words just hurt.  God forgive me, I feel betrayed.

Not long ago I read where someone said, “Don’t trade what you don’t know for what you do know.”  So in the midst of these feelings, this is what I try to do.  While I feel betrayed, I know that God has not betrayed me because God cannot betray me.  I am still His child and He still loves me even though I do not understand why He has let this happen.  I know He has not betrayed me because I know that His word is true and His word says that He loves me with an unending, unconditional love.  I know He has not betrayed me because it is impossible for Him to break His promises to me to never leave me or forsake me.  I know He has not betrayed me because the grace He has poured into my life has allowed me to put one foot in front of the other these last months to do what needs to be done.  I know He has not betrayed me because of the love of my children, family and friends which warms me and comforts me in my loneliness and grief.

God forgive me when I feel betrayed and keep me from believing that it’s true.

Reinventing Myself

Michael is gone.  That is a fact.  I think all I’ve ever thought about through life or wanted from life is to be married to Michael.  To grow old (older I guess) together.  To have another 30 years of enjoying life, all our years of hard work, our grown children and one day grandchildren.  This is the picture I’ve had in my mind for I can’t tell you how many years.

But the fact is my life isn’t going to look like that picture.  Michael is gone.  So now I wonder, “What do I want my life to look like?”  “Who do I want to be?”

I’ve been thinking about what I want to be now that it’s just me.  I hesitate, because I don’t want my kids and friends to think I don’t like what life was like with Michael.  I do.  But I don’t have that anymore.  So, how do I want to go forward?

I want to be more fun.  Michael was always the fun part of us.  He was the one who laughed more, told stories more, teased and made up nicknames for people.  And I was always the more serious one.  I want to learn to be more fun.  I want to lighten up and not always be so serious all the time.  This is an area I really hate for my children, because they lost the fun parent.  I want to be more fun for them.

I want to be more spontaneous.  I’m a planner.  And that’s a wonderful trait to have.  But I want to be able to act in the moment more.  I want to “get my purse” whenever the opportunity arises.  I want to not overthink things and be more flexible.  Maybe this goes along with being more fun.

I want to be more emotional.  Not the crying all the time kind of emotional.  But the live in the moment, feel what life brings, rejoice every day, and don’t think too hard about what everybody else will say, kind of emotional.  I don’t want to hold back on tears and laughter and shouts of joy.

I want to be more devout.  I want my faith to explode in its passion.  I want to leap in faith first and re-think it all later.  I want faith to be my first response, not my alternative.  I want to feel Christ more deeply, pray with more fervor, confess without holding back, praise Him with knees bowed and hands up.

I want to love more.  I want to love in a way that I’ve never loved before.  And this is really huge for me because I love Michael like I’ve never loved anyone or anything and I don’t know how to love more than that.  But I want to love even more than that.  I want to love without reservation, without hesitation, without judgment, and expecting nothing in return.  I want to love like God loves me.

How do you want to reinvent yourself?

For the First Time

For the first time, today I went to church by myself, sat by myself and didn’t completely blubber through all the music.  OK, so there were a few tears during that last song, but no blubbering and it didn’t turn into the big ugly cry.  (There’s something about singing “All I have is in You” that brings me to tears.)

For the first time this week I went out to eat by myself – just me.  Table for one.  It was to one of Michael’s favorite places.  The manager came over and talked like he used to talk with Michael and me.  It’s not as much fun to dine alone.  (But he did pick up my check – thanks Paul!)

For the first time next week I will be travelling without Michael.  It’s a girlfriends’ trip – something I would have never done without Michael.  And for the first time I am planning an overseas trip without Michael – that will really take me out of my comfort zone!

For the first time I am making investment decisions and business decisions by myself.  It’s the kind of thing that we would always discuss together, no matter whose idea it was to begin with.  We were partners that way.

For the first time I attended a board meeting in Michael’s place and for the first time I went to a seminary event without him.  I spent the entire time that evening thinking that he should be there celebrating his good friend and when they showed a picture of Michael I lost it.  The tears started flowing and couldn’t be stopped and I had to make a hasty exit.  Sorry friends.

For the first time I went to the farm without Michael.  He wasn’t there physically, but he’s all over that place!  And soon I’ll go for the first time to the beach house.  Another hurdle to face.

For the first time I made bread.  Not banana bread or zucchini bread or cranberry-orange bread.  Not the kind out of the box or in a bread machine.  The old fashioned, from scratch, add the yeast, knead, wait, punch and knead some more kind.  And it was pretty good, if I may say so myself (especially with some homemade peach preserves – mmm).                           homemade bread

For the first time I had to sign a sworn affidavit that I am not married.  It’s like adding insult to injury and made me reach for the tissues.  Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming at all.

Some days I actually feel a little stronger and think there are things I will try that I’ve never done before.  I see a lot more firsts in my future.  Life looks very different.