How did you two meet? This is a common question asked of my husband and I when we meet someone for the first time. We both have our own versions of the story. Mine is filled with details and his is sweet and short. Let me preface this by saying that throughout my life details have always shown great depth in the power and hand of God in my life. Our story has distinct details and are not to be overlooked, but are there to show the Lord was present throughout. To this day Nathan is still unfolding his details in conversation and I am always shocked by the power of each new discovery. We both possess differing ways of storytelling, therefore, when telling our story, we will ask the recipient if they would like the short or long version and proceed as requested. After the short version is given I cringe because details are really the loveliest and most important part of our story.  (Insert smirk in the direction of my husband here)

October 8, 2011 is the date we were married. We celebrated our 5 year anniversary this past year and I still have to pinch myself some days to believe it is so. Where did it all begin?

Nathan messaged me on Facebook, February 8, 2011 and stated that my friend Kim told him to ‘”friend” me. Of course my immediate thought, “who is this creeper?” (Insert phone call to Kim) Who is Nathan and why is he saying you told him we should be friends on Facebook? Kim: Oh, I met Nathan on Christian Mingle (an online dating website) and he was interested in me but after reading his profile I immediately felt God wanted you two to meet. He wrote in his profile something about wanting a partner who had a zest for life, and I just knew that was you! So, I wrote him and told him I felt God wanted you two to meet and to look  you up on Facebook. Joanna, he lives 3 hrs away, so if he is a creeper, there is distance. (insert laughter)

Rewind one year previous, February 18, 2010, when I was in Northwest Arkansas preparing for my brothers funeral. I was riding in the backseat of my parents car and had just left a viewing at the funeral home. My parents had just received the death report and were discussing its contents in the front seat. As they spoke about the details on that report my world stopped and slowed in motion. I could feel a deep sense of confusion and loneliness and there in the backseat I felt the Lord speak to me. He reminded me of Job and the scripture where Job cries out, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job had just lost his family and in the midst of his pain he cried out to the Lord; showing his steadfastness to the Lord during the darkest time of his life. The Lord spoke in my moment of intense grief and promised me he would give to me even during the time where I felt the greatest loss. In this time I indeed felt my brother had been taken from me and in the darkest moment of my life felt so deeply saddened by this loss. Please know that throughout the months and  years to come the one thing that remained deep in my heart was the understanding that God was for me. I kept this truth deep in me throughout the darkest days and nights and when no one could comfort me the Lord was ALWAYS there for me. The Lord promised me He would give. In the depths of my pain I held to His promise and let me just tell you how God’s amazing promise came about.

Let us now insert a detail that Nathan shared with me just the other day. Around the same time all of this was going on in my life, Nathan had just gone through a devastating divorce and had taken on the habit of dating often in an attempt to dull his pain. His best friend, who is not in nature a truth speaker, spoke up and told him that he needed to take a 1 year break from dating woman and focus on healing from his divorce. Nathan took his best friends advice and took a year off from dating to heal and focus on himself. His 1 year mark, February 2011 came and he began the search on Christian Mingle with a new understanding of what he wanted to find in a woman.

I finally accepted Nathan’s friend request with the understanding that if he was a creeper at least he was 3 hours away and there was “distance.” (insert chuckle here) God does have quite a sense of humor! So it began. I still have the Facebook messages from the early days. I read through them out load to Nathan just the other month and we chuckled. We were so forward in our attempts to know one another. We asked straightforward questions in our messages and got to the heart of knowing each other. I laugh now because when I read them it sounds like we were conducting a job interview. But in all seriousness, we were at the place in our personal lives where we knew what we wanted, were resolve in where we were in life, and didn’t want to deal with all the fluff of the dating scene. It’s apparent in our exchange of messages.

Kim continued to prod and finally pushed me to offer my phone number to Nathan, which had been requested at least 2x by this point. If anyone knows Nathan they will understand when I tell them he was shocked when he was able to speak with me hour after hour over the phone. I remember he would often comment on how he couldn’t believe he was still talking to me. (Yes, you may laugh here) He meant it in the nicest way. Nathan is what I have dubbed, The Stoic. His facial expressions are difficult to read and although he doesn’t think he has much to say, he talks quite a lot to me. It really was shocking the amount of hours we spent on the phone. We asked pointed questions about each others lives and got to the heart of one another. I could sense early on the depth of kindness he had for others and this was one thing that immediately caught my attention.

Our in depth conversations continued for 2 weeks. We finally got to the place where we wanted to meet one another face to face. Nathan set a day and made his way to my hometown of Duluth, MN. His plan was in place to come, Wednesday, February 23, 2011 and the Monday before he was to come visit he received a call for a job interview on the same day he was planning to be in town. At Nathans current job he had just experienced a drastic cut in hours. When we began talking, Nathan asked about some employers in the area and put in his resume for some jobs in my area. (I know, it sounds crazy, right!) Well, we met for the 1st time face to face at Wendy’s. (because you always meet creepers at a public place) We had an immediate connection and I don’t remember anything we said during that meal. It was a complete blur. The only thing I remember was the sweet gestures he made of reaching over the Wendy’s tray to put his hand over mine. As if to say, I approve. I do remember being stunned by his stoic expression. Something I had not anticipated. This was a new challenge for me. Immediately after our 1st date at Wendy’s he went to his interview and was offered the job on the spot!

When Nathan and I met up after his interview we ran to the grocery store and as we were walking past the Sun Drop pop display I mentioned to him that I had some friends that I wanted him to meet but I wasn’t sure how he wanted me to introduce him to them. He responded with, “You can tell them I am your boyfriend.” (insert chuckle here) Of course my snarky self said that I could only do that if he asked me out first. Who says that at the age of 26! Me! Ha! So, he took this very sweet moment in the middle of the grocery store to ask me to be his girlfriend. It was a memorable moment for both of us there next to the Sun Drop pop display. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

Remember, I told you in the very beginning the importance of details. I want to draw your attention to something that God showed me when I began dating Nathan. He first reminded me of His promise and then allowed me to come across the meaning of Nathan’s name.  The meaning of Nathan means, “he (God) has given.” You know that moment when that feeling you get in your heart collides with the truth in your head. The spark! The ah ha moment! The goodness of God and His unfailing, unfathomable, unending love.

 

 

 

Tender, soft, gentle are the ways of our Heavenly Father.

Releasing what pains us.

He leads us into His ways with compassion.

Sympathetic towards the wounds we carry.

Walking beside waiting to carry.

The Father puts Himself fully into loving us.

Nothing we do sends Him running towards us.

Confident we stand as sons and daughters.

 

Countless holes have been exposed.

Laid bare.

Scrambling to fill the depths.

Snatching from a plethora of emotions.

Fill. Fill. Fill it up.

Fill with lies. Fill with hatred. Fill with fear and despair.

Let the lion continue to roam!

Pass the door and keep on your search!

Choose the depths of His love. His peace. His strength and faithfulness.

Stop the scrambling for convenience that easily fills.

The depths have been filled.

 

Unlimited depth

Deeper and deeper we fall

Into love with you

Exchanging our fears for love

Supernatural depths beyond earthly imagination

Our hearts cry for more

The sweetness of your closeness

Everyday walking in your presence

Asking for more and more

Greater awareness of your goodness

Depths unmatched by deepest oceans

Letting go and basking in Him

Worries fading with every step

 

The anxious labored breathing. The weight on your chest. The unknown concerns and worries that weigh. Life has a way of throwing stress on our shoulders and saying in a booming voice, CARRY ME! Do we resist? Do we cast it off? What to do and where to go when life weighs us down.

Have we learned to whom we throw our heaviness when we stumble through our days? Are we connected to the one who sustains life? Do we have an ease with our Father to acknowledge his power and cast our cares?

Fight. Fight. Fight. Continue the good fight.

Cast aside the heaviness to the one who always walks with us. Turn to the left or to the right and tell man what burdens you and get a nod of agreement. Turn to the father who carries our burdens and receive an exchange with the Maker.

The lifter of our heads. Walking always beside us. Asking gently to turn and acknowledge what is available to walk this road. Stepping into His light and opening our mouths with speak of  deepest pains. Opening our hearts to the supernatural exchange of joy for sorrows, peace for anxieties, strength for our weakness, and love for every fear.

To the grieving who think nothing will ever change. To the hurting to who think tomorrow will be the same. To the lost and broken who are too weary to pick up the pieces.

Your eyes see only what is in front and behind. Look beyond. You will see the promise of change. The promise of a new tomorrow. The promise of wholeness to come.

You alone carry the burdens. You see the pain. You walk lonely and forever feel lost.

With the One who is peace, you will not be troubled. With the One who freely gives joy, your head will lift. With the One who is our companion, you will forever have a friend.

Turn your eyes to the Savior, the one who promises life everlasting. Turn to the Father, who longs for your devotion. Turn to the Keeper, who deserves every praise.

The promise of comfort reaches beyond what we see. Our Heavenly Father provides every need.

 

If you listen even briefly to survivors of suicide you will hear life explained as before their loss vs. after their loss. Life is drastically altered after the loss of a loved one and it can oftentimes only be described as tragically different. The memories were vast before the loss of my brother. I built a catalog of amazing times in life; times full of laughter and excitement. I was beginning my freshman year towards completion of my second college degree and the years were bursting with many joys and accomplishments. Before the loss of my brother was a vast 26 years full of memories.

When I experienced the tragic death of my brother I simultaneously lost many memories of this vast catalog of life before. My entire memory bank shifted and was reserved for my brothers life preservation and sorting through the details of his death. The first year I wrote all I could to preserve every memory of his life. I often experienced times of panic; fearing I would forget him. It took every inch of my brain to process this loss. I often explain to those close to me that the space in my brain was rearranged and grief took occupancy in all portions deemed unnecessary for survival.

The one thing I never anticipated after the loss of my brother was the diminished memories. I recently attended my 10 year college reunion with the same friends I shared thousands of memories with before the loss of my brother. I did not foresee that the retelling of times past would grieve my heart as it did. Coming to the realization that I had forgotten so much prior to my brothers loss was grievous. I certainly realize that 10 years is a long time and many memories are naturally lost if not properly documented, but my mind felt blank in so many ways. I listened intently as each friend rambled off story after story and simultaneously felt light enter my darkened brain. I found myself diving into my catalog of memories and grasping at anything I could bring to remembrance. The occasional question, “Joanna, do you remember when __________,” was posed and I continually found myself answering, “No, I don’t remember that.”

Life after loss can be explained as a hallway of rooms and each memory before loss locked away in each. I’m not certain that it is the intention of the bereaved to forget these memories, but because of the amount of time the brain spends to sort out tragedy, the memories end up here. Until this reunion I never really understood the depth of memories before, that were left unremembered. My hallway of rooms had been locked for years and one day of retelling of memories began to open each, one by one. The sharing of memories opened up so many cherished pieces of my past. It breathed a refreshed life into my dark hallway.

I have been home for over a week now and continue to replay the memories shared. Rebuilding life after loss takes intent and does not happen overnight. So many times you may not know what it is that your fragile heart may need in this grief journey. This is why I  tell the newly bereaved to be gentle with yourselves. A day may be drowned in the replaying of details of your loved ones death and the very next may be full of memories of laughter. After 6 years into this journey that’s how life is beginning to turn. There are more crevices opening up in my brain and new life is making its way into those dark and locked hallways. I can begin to see doorways opening with light shining through. These moments come with a pain because it tells me I am further from the day my brother was here on earth. I continue to press into each new day as a gift and to trust the Maker of life to open up new doors of light.

On November 9, 2015 I posted Before and After in The Weight Loss Journey and wanted to post an update. First, how scary is it to post a full body before and after photo…. very scary! Ahh! This is my 1st before and after full body post! I am always so amazed when I see other people post before and after photos and find a ton of inspiration in them so I decided its time to do my own to continue to inspire & push myself!

before and after full bodyHere are the facts on the before and after photo. The before photo was taken July 12, 2014 and the after photo was taken January 31, 2016. I am down 60 lbs in the after photo and worked that weight off 2015. The 6 months previous to this weight loss was a reflective time of mental change. I have taken a lot of time in making small adjustments in my journey. This has helped me to sustain the lifestyle. After loosing 130 lbs and gaining it back I have learned the importance of maintenance along the weight loss journey, and for this lifestyle to be successful it takes time. There are many ways people live their healthy lives and each person has to find something that is sustainable for them. Bravo to all who are taking a step in the direction of health! My journey of loosing the weight for a second time around is more focused on sustaining it for a lifetime and learning how to be whole inside and out. I wrote a post on that here.

I set 2 goals and shared those in my previous post- Before and After in The Weight Loss Journey.

1. 120 minutes of exercise

I did accomplish this goal a few times, but in reality it was just not reasonable to sustain long term. I have cut back to 60 minutes 5x per week and feel much better about completing this goal and maintaining it. When doing 120 min of exercise I found myself burning out quickly, getting bored with exercise, and just lacking the motivation to continue such an unrealistic goal. Hey, don’t get me wrong, 120 min of exercise was awesome! I felt amazing when I was finished. I really pushed myself during this time and realized I had some awesome willpower to continue this when it got tough. To sustain that goal long term was unrealistic. I have adjusted goal #1 to be realistic, obtainable, and sustained long term.

2. Run a mile in 15 minutes

Running a mile in 15 min has been another goal I am actively pursuing. Let me just preface this by saying, I have done very little running in my lifetime. Running has by far been the toughest exercise for me to push myself in. I listen to people say they push a good run out in 12 min and to be honest, its hard for me to wrap my brain around.

Facts about my times on goal #2: I started with a running time around 19 min and have gotten my time down to 15:54. I have carved off some time and feel really good about where I’m at. Each time I run I get excited to see the endurance building. Running is a new thing for me and its exciting to carve out a new accomplishment in an unknown area of exercise. Cheers!

I have a few things I am working through when it comes to running.

1. I feel self-conscious when I run.

Feeling self-conscious is something I have felt for a long time, and since attaining proper running attire, it has decreased. Ladies, can we all say, “Running bra!” The idea of running with people present scares the crap out of me. Running outdoors along the sidewalk or busy roadways is not my favorite. I have done all my running on a treadmill and this alleviates this fear a bit for me. I’m working through it. I have done some running with my husband next to me on the treadmill to help build my confidence and this helped a lot. He is good at complimenting my form, which is nice!

2. My lungs feel like they are going to cave in while running.

This is no joke! I have had to work on my breathing a lot while working towards this goal. I get to a certain point and just start gasping for air. Lord help me! It also sends me into a tailspin and I find myself in fear. Oh, good ol’ friend, fear!

I have learned a lot in working towards these goals. I encounter a lot of fear through this process and each time I push through, I feel stronger. Pushing your body physically will push your mind; it will unleash some emotions you may have not encountered otherwise. Its easy to ignore some very tough realities when we remain stagnant. The act of pushing towards these goals has put me in an uncomfortable place and because of it I have been able to encounter and overcome fears. This is the empowering part I love! You truly feel amazing when your break through and accomplish your goals!

 

 

 

 

 

Today, February 16, 2016, I celebrate my only brother, Jonathan. He lived a short life. It’s been 6 years since he left and I am thankful for the beautiful memories I have of his life on earth. Each year on the anniversary of his death there is a range of emotions that surface. People refer to it as the grieving process. I refer to it as life. Writing was a gift my brother had and the poems he left behind are a source of strength. I am so glad he decided to write and continued on with it throughout his lifetime. He continued to grow in this area and it was something I really loved to encourage in him. There is a sense of closeness to his memory when I write because it has an attachment to a beautiful memory. 

I’ve experienced a lot through these last 6 years of my grief journey. The biggest thing that I have held on to are the memories and the largest struggle has been sifting through the range of emotions after loss. If I were to give one solid piece of advice to anyone who is standing next to someone who has just lost someone tragically, it would be this. The things they will say or express in their time of grief may sometimes worry you or sadden you. You are without emotion if their loss doesn’t somehow move you. Listening allows the griever to move through their grief. How many times will it take? I cannot tell you there is a timeline in this journey, because I don’t believe it begins and ends one day. As I wrote previously in my post entitled, “This is Life,” the grieving somehow have to learn how to move through their own lives and work through this grief. Again, the best thing you can do as a loved one is listen, and allow them to speak without correcting or judging. The very opportunity to speak up about their loss will allow a great amount of comfort during this time. 

Looking back, year 5 was the year I felt the full finality of Jonathan’s absence. My husband and I took a little boy into our home just 5 short months previous (as we are foster-adopt parents) and I was feeling that this little guy would have brought a lot of joy to my brother. The loss felt great because of the things that were happening in my life that my brother was not around to participate in and contribute to. Twenty-fifteen, I started writing again about my brothers death. I sat in my corner chair with my laptop, listening to music and wrote. I was startled by the things that came out of me. They were not flowery words, but raw and honest. The first 2 years after my brothers death I did a lot of reflecting through writing and then one day stopped, and put a wall up against expressing my voice with pen and paper. I haven’t found the right opportunity to share this until now, but here are some of the things I began writing last year on this date that really helped me process some really deep sorrow and allowed me to move through a very dark period in this grieving process and into a place of hope. I cheer my words now because I can see how they freed me to express and be ok with where I was in this life. 


Written February 14, 2015:

On February 14th 2010 I received the call that my brother went missing and there was a note believed to be a suicide letter. This night 5 years ago was torturous. I was thousands of miles away and had absolutely no control. He wasn’t found until 2 days later. Those moments run through my mind like a movie.

The Reel of Grief

A reel rolling the terror of my reality. It’s a clear genre. The cold sorrowful song of death.

The finality. It stops. Comes to an end.

The reel rolls. Hits stop on the world rolling by.

Could 5 years come and go and the reality still feel so cold.

Each screening provokes another emotion untold.

Up and down. Around and through.

Reeling through the memories. Each one unfolds. Ranges of emotions untold.


Written February 16, 2015:

Found February 16, 2010

Those moments, imprinted in my memory for all eternity.

Each day produces a new wave of emotion. Calm seas is what I long for. The waves of grief allow only at will.

Rolling On The Waves

Anger. Drops of tears. Heart aches. Brain spinning ’round.

Rolling on the waves. Loss of past and present. Loss of dreams. Family severed. Memories becoming the sum of a life lived.

Rolling on the waves.

Brother. Friend.

Rolling on the waves.

Time ticking. Minute to the next. Day by day. Year after year.

Rolling on the waves.

See your face. The call of angst. Unable to save.

Rolling on the waves.

It comes back to the start. Not birth. But death. Loss. Begins the day my heart fell apart.

Still rolling on the waves.


Finding your voice after loss is one of the hardest things in this grieving process. It has been scary writing about this journey for fear that those who know me may worry for me and my overall emotional state. Let’s be frank, when you are raw with your words it can make some people worry. The truth is that writing frees me to have purpose and to share with others the very realities of this journey. Each written word is felt deeply and expressed freely simply to help those who are grieving and reading to be assured they are not alone. I too was once searching for a familiar voice many years ago and found little in the light of this topic. My hope is to change that in some small way.

The loudest message I give myself 6 years later is to never underestimate the power of your life on this earth. You have purpose. You have a voice. Life can certainly be messy and the most powerful words are the ones that go out of your mouth over your own life. Speak life to your very being and encourage yourself today.

Much love to you on your journey.

 

P.S. Dear Jonathan, I love and miss you. -JoJo