A Place To Ponder

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  Luke 2:19

 

My husband passed away three years ago this Valentine’s Day – February 14, 2014.  As I have traversed this grief journey, I am on the point in the road that people feel more comfortable asking me questions about “what it’s like”.

 

What is it like to lose your husband, friend, soulmate?  I have given a lot of thought to this and the best description I can give that others who have not been on our journey can understand follows:

 

Think about when you plan and take the vacation of a lifetime and it turns out better than you expected.  You plan for it, save money, buy tickets, purchase special clothing, pack, etc.  Part of the fun of the vacation is the trip to your destination, because once you are packed, you are already on vacation, right?

When you arrive at your destination, you unpack and begin to experience wonderful things.  You might take pictures, but you definitely drink in the experience of the vacation and make wonderful memories.  At some point, no matter how long your vacation is, you have to think about going home.  At some point, you pull out your suitcase and start packing the clothes and souvenirs you know you won’t need for the rest of the trip.  Sometimes, during this process you have to go back to your suitcase because you have packed something away that you weren’t ready to and that you need.  Still, at some point, you have to pack everything away and carry that suitcase to your mode of transportation home.

 

When you get home, you unpack and as you pull out the dirty clothes to make a pile for laundry, you also have the clothes you wore and were able to wash while away, so they can go straight into their place in your closet, ready to wear.  You have to find a place for your souvenirs.  You have to take your pictures to be developed and when those come back, wonderful memories flood through you.  This unpacking brings both good and not-so-good memories and feelings with it.  You often long to return to your vacation, but must stay in your day-to-day world and save money for your next vacation, whenever that may be.

 

Grieving the loss of my husband has been like what I described above.  We had a wonderful life – full of memories.  With his death, I had to start packing away parts of that life.  It’s a slow process, because I have kept my “suitcase” on the floor of my bedroom, unlatched, because I couldn’t bear to finish unpacking.  Once you totally unpack the vacation is really over.  I still go to the “suitcase” and take out the souvenirs and handle them carefully and let them bring a flood of memories to my heart.  Wonderful memories.

 

Each time, I unpack and pack this virtual “suitcase”, the sharp pain of my loss lessens.  It doesn’t hurt as much each time I ponder our life together in my heart.  There are memories that I would say should go in the laundry pile – hospital visions, bandages, tears.  Then there are the memories that remind me of the breath-taking life we had – his smile, our laughter, shared meals, snuggling.  I could go on and on.  Those memories are wonderful.  My heart has a tug of pain when I think of these things, but then it swells with happiness at having been the recipient of such a wonderful love, even if it ended too soon.

 

As I prepare to commemorate the third year since his death, I can look back on our wonderful life and not feel the sharp pain I once felt when thinking along these lines.  I thank God that He allowed me such a sweet time with my husband and that my memories of that time are still fresh.  I can ponder them in my heart and I do.

 

I encourage you to go to your “suitcase” and allow yourself to experience the wonderful memories of a life well-lived.  Ponder these memories in your heart and let the pain be replaced by the sweetness of a wonderful time remembered.

 

Dear Lord, Thank you for the gift of love and for the wonderful memories that I hold in my heart of time spent with loved ones. 

Permission

by Kit Hinkle

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

I usually write early on Sunday, but this weekend I had special plans away from home. And while my plans kept me so slammed busy that I wasn’t able to post anything this morning, now that I’m back home, I wanted to write the one word the Lord put on my heart to share with you, sisters— permission.

You have permission to step out, in a Godly way, to impact this world in a way only you can.

This weekend was so easy for me to pull off, because it was exactly up my alley as far as events I like to arrange.

My oldest turned 18, and I decided to surprise him with a weekend with his friends at a small villa at the beach—yes, a cold weekend, but who cares?  These were really great Christian friends who just wanted to pal around and let my son know they love him.

As I planned it, I had complete confirmation in my heart that it would be fabulous.  It would honor God, and He would be right there with me as I chaperoned seven teenagers by myself for an overnight.

… but there were naysayers.  I had someone trying to place doubt about it.  It stung for only a moment, until I regained my footing and remembered that sometimes the world struggles with seeing a single mom stepping out in life without a husband.  I had to remind her that I do have a Husband, and because I walk carefully with Him, and because the families of all the kids who are going trust me, the weekend will go well.

And it did.

The victory is only His.  The weekend was beautiful.  The teens surprised my eighteen year old by covering him in silly string and then putting him in one of the cars without explanation as we took off for the beach.

1441423_10201693689358886_752215015_nWe had pizza on the boardwalk.  They did a “polar bear” run into the cold ocean waters!  They went swimming in a heated pool with 50 degree temperatures outside!  They put a sombrero on his head and I served up a tex mex dinner at the villa.  They put on a funny goofy birthday talent stunt for him that had us all laughing, and the boys wrestled and goofed around the villa for the evening.  They watched a movie and then crashed.

I served up eggs and bacon before sunrise, and they held their own church “service” by the ocean.  They played backgammon and a hysterical teenage party game.  We drove into Charleston and shopped at the markets. Then we stopped at a Zaxby’s along the way home, and they finished the weekend with a bible study on Luke 9.1501766_10201699345180278_1264206823_n

Did I need permission from the naysayers?  No.

I get my permission from the Lord.

Sisters, I didn’t want to finish my Sunday without sharing with you.  The Lord allowed you to be without a husband, but not without a purpose.

Listen to Him and use the gifts He gave you to impact the world around you.  I’m so grateful these seven teens got to experience God’s grace in spiritually sound friendships during a weekend that just may have been defining in their young Christian walk.

As I say goodnight, I pray that you too will have stories to share about listening and acting on God’s instructions in spite of the worldly opinion that a woman without an earthy husband can’t accomplish what He decides she can accomplish!

I Can’t

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, … Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.    And they came to the place which God had told him of, and Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham… Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him…  And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns:  and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.   

–Genesis 22:  7-13

 

Silence.  Nausea.  Disbelief.  Relief.  Sadness.  Loneliness.  Confusion.  Emptiness.  These are the emotions I began to experience on the afternoon of February 14, 2011 in Durham, North Carolina.  The Lord was there with me that day, but, for a moment I turned my face from Him and walked away.  He had asked me to take something I loved with all my heart and sacrifice it.  Give it to Him and trust that it would all be ok.  I walked all the way to the altar, put my beloved on it, praying the whole time he would be spared.  It didn’t happen, my beloved was called home.  And in the silent, empty world I now lived in, a thought kept repeating itself in my head until I couldn’t breathe, “I can’t do this.”  How can you continue to be alive when your heart has been ripped from your chest?  Yet there I was, still breathing, still thinking.  My eyes had the ability to blink and focus.  I felt like the walking dead and, without my Savior, I was like a walking dead person.  I have never felt so utterly alone before.

How could He have asked this of me?  You don’t answer someone’s prayer and give them their soul mate and then, when their love is so solid and founded in You, take them Home.  That’s not how it works.  This was my thought pattern as I packed up my things from my hotel room near the hospital, as I drove home from NC to VA, as I accepted the home-cooked meals, planned the funeral, bought the casket and burial plot.  “I can’t do this…”

When we went down to Duke for his bone marrow transplant, we had to meet with a social worker.  She asked us what our biggest fear was.  My fear was that I would have to drive home without him.  “I can’t do this…”

Thankfully, I have a very close relationship with my Savior and I was surrounded by people who loved the Lord.  During this time, they carried me and my needs to the throne room, when I couldn’t bear to think about my Savior.

It has been almost three years since Bill went Home and, not only have I done “this”, but I can tell you I am living victoriously through Christ.  I understand that God, in calling Bill Home, made the most loving, best decision for everyone.

I have also learned that I REALLY “can’t do this…” God has never intended for us to do “this” alone.  He wants fellowship with us.  He wants us to come to Him with everything.  He wants us to rely on Him for everything.  I have learned to accept the Grace and Mercy He gives me every morning and just use it for today.  He is faithful and will give me more for tomorrow.  I can’t do this in me, but if I surrender and lose me, He is made bigger in me and things just work out.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but on every step of this journey, God has lovingly wrapped His arms around me and listened to every thought I had and never left my side.  I don’t want to do this, but God needs me to walk this journey.  Each day, I grow stronger in Him and I see that He provides for all my needs.

Thank you, Lord, for loving me so much and walking this journey with me. 

If Only…

By Kathy Mills

When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  ~ John 11:32 

Brad and I were about to leave his office at church one Sunday when an acquaintance stepped in. She immediately expressed she had been praying for us since she heard of Brad’s cancer returning. Before either of us could thank her for being so thoughtful, her next words simply stunned me.

“If only you had believed more, the cancer would not have come back.” 

What did she just say?

I remember feeling instantly hurt, than angry. Thankfully, I didn’t respond, but wondered after she left, how could anyone think Brad’s cancer came back because we failed to believe enough? Seriously…that‘s just ridiculous! I instantly rejected her assessment of our faith in God’s ability to heal.

During the next several months Brad’s doctor tried three different chemo treatments. I prayed fervently, always hoping with each treatment, God would use it to heal my husband. Yet, the cancer continued to resist each one. Eventually our doctors told us there was nothing more they could do. He said, It would now take a miracle of God to heal my husband. So I prayed continually for that miracle to happen.

Even there, when all seemed lost, I held onto the tiniest thread of faith that Jesus’ healing touch might still come in time to save my husband’s life. But Jesus’ touch of healing didn’t come…at least not as I had intended… and Brad died.

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In my grief, one of my most troubling emotions was that of feeling betrayed. I had waited expectantly until nearly the very end of Brad’s life, believing and trusting Jesus would come in time. Didn’t I pray continually and with expectant love for my Savior, night and day? “Lord, didn’t you hear me calling for you?”  

I wanted desperately to understand, why God didn’t come and rescue us as He had before when we prayed for healing. 

“Jesus, If only you had come…my husband would not have died”

picmonkey_image-2

During those first weeks after my husband’s death, my thoughts occasionally considered the ridiculous comment made that Sunday morning months before;

“If only you had believed more (Kathy), the cancer would not have come back.”

Was it really possible Lord, you disregarded my pleading prayers and allowed Brad to die because I failed to believe more?  Were those fearful moments of doubt I had when Brad’s cancer didn’t respond to treatments the reason you didn’t come and heal him?

Thankfully the Lord didn’t allow me to sit in that mess of thoughts for long! I was encouraged through reading God’s Word in Luke 22:44;

“He (Jesus) prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.”

Jesus, who obviously knew how to pray and be heard by our Father in Heaven, never doubted His prayers were heard. Jesus, certainly “believed more”  when He prayed; “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me…”  God did not allow Jesus to suffer the cross  because Jesus didn’t “believe more.” Jesus suffered the cross because God knew it was necessary. 

 God didn’t allow Brad to die because my faith had moments of doubt. Brad died because God’s will allowed this to be the time and means for Brad to come home…and for me to live for Christ like never before.  

Although I would never have “signed up” for this method to be the one in which I would learn to trust God with everything…I am forever grateful that God loves me enough to want me to discover my satisfaction in life comes not from the people I love or who love me…but through my relationship with Jesus.

God has not once failed to provide me with exactly what I need the moment I needed it. Not once. He will do no less for you. He loves you too much not to give you His ability to overcome what you fear. His love never fails.

It is my prayer that each of you who have lost your beloved husband, will allow yourselves whatever time you personally need to grieve. Do not be discouraged because you grieve so deeply and the pain is hard to bear.

When my sorrow seems too great, it helps me to remember that Jesus deeply grieved the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus didn’t cry because He felt “sorry” for Mary & Martha…He cried because He felt the same deep cut of separation that death causes our hearts to feel. While Jesus’ tears fell from His eyes, He knew He would soon be raising his beloved friend from the dead and back to life; yet Jesus cried anyway, because death hurts!

Jesus grieved with hope.Thankfully, your grief and mine also have this same thread of hope running through ours, because we know Jesus defeats death and conquers the grave. When I fix my eyes towards the goal of Heaven and the joyous reunion there will be the moment I arrive on the arm of my Savior Jesus…well, the things of this world fade, and my burdens are lifted. I pray this is true for you too.

God has some good plans for you…lean into Him and trust Him with your next breath and your next step…and the next breath and the next step after it. He will never leave you alone and He keeps all His promises too.

Passionately His…

 

 

Again God…Really? – by Kathy Mills

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-2a NLT

It will be five years this September 1, that my husband Brad died in my arms from cancer. I seriously believed after devotedly caring for, and helplessly watching the love of my life endure a prolonged and painful death, God would never have me witness that kind of loss again.

But I was wrong…

This past July 5, my 85 year old mom who for the past two years lived with me so I could care for her, passed into Heaven in the arms of Jesus. Her death however didn’t come without a battle. I  quickly realized our time together was ending, when my mom’‘s health took that giant step in it’s decline last month. I knew she was going to die soon since she had become bedridden. Her frail frame, weak and in constant pain desired no food and longed only for rest.

Soon our days and nights began to blend into one constant struggle to find rest. As I focused nearly every waking moment on trying to find ways to alleviate my mom’s discomfort and suffering, I inwardly sensed that familiar panic and fear I had when my husband was suffering before his death. The weight of despair in my heart bore down on me and I was overwhelmed by sorrow.

I remember a couple of weeks before she died, sitting beside her bed one night. I held her hand while she slept, and prayed for God to take her now like this. I wanted her death to be peaceful and swift. I wasn’t seeking His will and endurance that night…I firmly wanted mine. I couldn’t imagine any good reason in the delay of her going home. I felt certain whatever God’s purpose in this suffering, it could be accomplished in a better way.

These very thoughts were like the ones I had as I helplessly looked on when my husband laid suffering day and night before he died. As I became overwhelmed with the memories of my husband’s long journey towards death while holding my mom’s hand, my heart seemed to scream “Again God…Really?”

The Lord seemed slow to me in answering. I must admit, I felt expectant of Him to quickly remove my mom’s suffering and to see things my way. He did neither.

Instead, He comforted me by revealing this; I can only hold my mom’s hand for a brief visit, but He never leaves her side and is carrying her tightly to Himself. He also reminded me; while I walk in this dark valley of suffering again, I do not walk it alone. Jesus is a faithful guide and He will never leave my side.  “Trust me” I heard God whisper through my tears…”remember always I am here you both.”  

picmonkey_image-2I found a sweet comfort as I envisioned being tightly drawn to Jesus’ side so as not to stray; walking bravely beside Him in His strength, as He gently carried my mom in His arms. Together, the three of us alone in the dark valley, feeling unafraid of the next step because God is with me. I felt covered in His peace.

I don’t know why God allowed my husband and mom to suffer so greatly before leaving this life to be with Him. I also don’t know why God would have me experience their last days, feeling helpless in their suffering. I may never know this side of Heaven the good it brought or His purpose fulfilled, which could have been accomplished “a better way” as I often think it could. Thankfully, God doesn’t ask me to understand…He simply ask, “Do you trust me?”  What else can I answer but, “Yes Lord, I trust you.”

Today like many other days, I miss my husband…and I miss my mom & dad too. The three people who mattered most to me are all gone from my life now. I hold in my spirit that great hope and comfort in knowing I’ll see them again one day in Heaven…but that doesn’t mean I don’t have days like today when I just plain want to see them…now! There have been many times when unexpectedly the deepest pain hits, leaving me feeling empty and gasping for “something more…something better” than what I feel I’ve been left with.

Sometimes the very thought of having many more years here without them can be quite depressing…until I stop looking at my future as I see it through what has been lost. Instead, I’d rather see my future through God’s promises and believe God’s Word which say His plans for my future are good and my life will not end without His good and loving purpose being fulfilled. I’d rather live expectantly & with anticipation of what God has in store for my future days than live them out in dread and defeat. Just writing that makes me smile at the thought of death’s sting losing some of it’s power over me.

What about you? Will you join me and set your eyes on Jesus too as we run this race called life together?

You know…after trials of sorrow like this one, I even think I can hear my husband’s voice among a distant cheering crowd. As I endure another lap of grief, with my eyes and thoughts fixed on Jesus, I keep running towards the finish line with Him.

picmonkey_image-5Victory in Jesus…it’s already mine.

And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”                                                                                                    ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Not Tomorrow….God’s Already There!!

by Karen Emberlin

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.     Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

Is today one of those intense grief days?  Are you struggling with the fear of the unknowns in your life without your husband?

I remember clearly the feeling of fear gripping my entire being the morning I awoke realizing my husband was not in a “deep sleep” but had journeyed to his heavenly home.  I could not imagine how I was ever going to face another tomorrow without him.  For 48 years he was my constant companion, best friend, lover, father to our children, working partner, protector and so much more.  We truly had become “one” and depended on each other all of the time.  Many people said they rarely saw one of us without the other!

“Tomorrow” is a word often filled with promise and hope.  With the challenges I faced, the thought of tomorrow left me feeling anxious, inadequate, and overpowered.  I knew in order to conquer the fear of tomorrow I had to trust God to be my constant companion and my ultimate caretaker.  I needed to focus on Him, who He is, His promises, and His plan for me.

The following words were written in one of the devotionals I use “ I am with you continually, so don’t be intimidated by fear.  Though it stalks you, it cannot harm you, as long as you cling to My hand.  Keep your eyes on Me, enjoying Peace in My Presence.”

Music has always touched my heart allowing me to communicate with God when I cannot focus as I should.  A few weeks before my husband’s passing we had the privilege of attending the first performance of  “Fear Not Tomorrow – A Worship Experience” at our church.  The music and the message it brought seemed so timely – we were facing uncertain tomorrows relating to our business.  Little did I know how my tomorrows would change in just a short time – but God did – He was already there and preparing me through the ministry of this music.

I have spent many hours listening and absorbing the message of this music in the past few months.  My husband fulfilled many roles and took care of me during the time I was allowed to spend with him.  It is hard to imagine that anyone else would care that much for me  –   but God does!   His love is never ending, His arms are there to hold and embrace me, and He’s in control of every tomorrow I will face.

I’d like to share the words from one of the songs:

Come all who are broken

Come if you’re afraid

Come taste His sweet water

Come feel His embrace

There’s more than existing

There’s more He will give

The future is waiting

This time is yours to live

 

His arms always open

They’re aching to hold

The bounties of heaven

Are waiting to flow

Let go what restrains you

Let God fill your soul

You don’t know tomorrow

But you know Who’s in control

 

Fear not tomorrow

God is already there

Through your joy or in sorrow

Every moment is in His care

Let the song of His love

Sing over you and declare

Fear not tomorrow

God is already there *

 

My dear Sisters, I continually need to ask the Lord’s help to face tomorrow, and what it might bring, without fear.  In the midst of my heartache I forget and take my eyes off of Jesus.  And that’s whenever the fear creeps back in!  I pray He will continue to remind each of us of His greatness and Love for us, and His presence in all of our tomorrows as we walk this unwanted Journey of Widowhood.

 

 *Fear Not Tomorrow by:

Sarah Mentzer, Brandee Vandergriff, and Tim Paul

Used by Permission – Copyright © 2011 Risen Music Publishing

The end of the story?

“So we’re not giving up.  How could we?  Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. 

These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. 

There’s far more here than meets the eye.  The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.

But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (The MSG)

Have you ever felt like giving up?  Disconnecting the phones, crawling back into bed, pulling the covers over your head?  I bet we’ve all been there.  Some of us in this unimagined journey may be past this stage, while others may be right in the midst of it.  Even though I rarely follow through on those thoughts, I still have days where a part of me wants to give in to the pain of widowhood by giving up and giving in.

But for me, really giving up was never an option.  Although I had lost my husband, the rock in our family, the love of my life, our two young sons had lost their compass, their role model, their daddy.  They expectantly look to me to pick up the pieces and guide our family into the future.  A future filled with unknowns, what-ifs, and should’ve-beens.

So I did what any other mother in my position would do–I forged ahead.  There were days I did not have a clue as to what I was doing.  I made decisions based solely on prayer and intuition.  Slowly but surely I began to feel more confident in making head of household decisions, with only God to consult with.

On the outside, it may have seemed like life was falling apart all around us.  Plans and dreams that were in the works for the Howell family of four had to be reevaluated and re-assessed.  Some we had to let go of completely, and that was difficult.  Others we are continuing to follow.   The rest are in a state of flux and uncertainty as we await God for direction.  The Howell family of three is slowly regrouping, once again finding purpose in life.

For you see, even on the worst of days, God is still at work within us.  He quietly fills in the cracks of our brokenness, like a contractor spackling holes in sheetrock.

His grace and His love unfold in our souls, allowing us to begin to heal.  God is actively making all things new, in spite of the curve-ball life threw us almost two years ago.  He shows us time and time again that life is still worth living.

As I look back on the past twenty two months since becoming a widow, I see how far I have come.  I look ahead and realize I have far to go.  The one constant in the journey has been the steadfast love and grace of my God.

He’s been beside me on the rough days, days I didn’t think I could make it until the next minute.  He’s curled up beside me on nights where it seemed I could never go to sleep in my big bed alone, after sharing it with a spouse for almost 23 years.

He’s helped me make decisions for my family, for our future, by giving me counsel and guidance, the best I could ever hope to have.  He’s given me glimpses of joy and happiness, when I thought those were emotions I might never feel again.

Most importantly He has showed me that really bad circumstances can build character, empathy, and faith.  I never thought good could come from such bad, but thanks to God, it has.

The end of my husband’s life could’ve been the end of my story–and it would’ve been a pretty good one to tell.  But God tells me I still have purpose.  I have work to do for Him, joy to experience, sons to raise, songs to sing, books to write.

He is enough.  You, too, have a purpose.  Don’t give up.  Your story should not end with the death of your spouse.  There’s so much more that God wants to help you write.

Father God,

I pray that each widow reading this will feel the all-encompassing love and grace that You and only You can provide.  Fill in the cracks of their brokenness, let them see that their story hasn’t ended just because they’ve lost a spouse.  In many ways, it’s just beginning.  It is my prayer that each finds purpose in this new uncharted territory of widowhood, so that Your kingdom will be glorified.  Because You make all things new.  Amen

Courage over Fear

It’s Guest Blogger Friday, sisters, and I’d like to introduce to you Cindy Cain. She has an amazing story to share as a devoted wife who cared for her husband through his final years. You can find more of Cindy’s writing on her blog, http://www.consideringitalljoy.com,  Cindy has emerged from deep grief to be able to share with those of you who might wonder can you find courage over a cloud of fear? Yes you can, and Cindy’s life is a testament to that.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

It was during a women’s retreat in 2004 when a sweet friend sat down with me and read this scripture to my heart . It spoke to me but not in a profound way at the time. I thanked her and tucked it away, not to be thought about

until…

My husband had been ill for some time. but had returned to work after the kidney transplant he had had several years earlier had him returning to work and living a good life until he became ill again. By 2009 I became more of a care-giver than a wife, his body slowly succumbing to immunosuppressant’s and fatigue.

When a mold (Aspergillus) took up residence in his lungs, we began to walk a fine line between good and bad drugs, attempting to keep his kidney healthy while also trying to kill the mold. On Christmas Eve 2010 I woke to find my precious husband had passed in his sleep.

Fear gripped my soul.

How could I continue living without my best friend, lover and confidant by my side?  Thirty years of being one, and now he was gone. How would I pay bills, raise my special kiddo, maintain a home, property, vehicles, and a full time job? How could I care for my granddaughters and tend to all that he had taken care of during our marriage?

Grief is indescribable—loneliness, unimaginable.

But fear?  It’s paralyzing!

Here’s how paralyzing—during the first several months after losing my Mark, I would arrive home from work, wrap myself in his robe and lay on the couch. I would not move until I had to return to work the next day, not even to prepare a meal. I cannot recall what my son ate, how his laundry got done or if my home were cleaned. The lawn and plants died, as I never ventured out—even into the yard! If it wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t going to move to do it.

Fear didn’t just creep in to my life. It took over like an unwelcomed guest!

God was with me, and I knew it—but in my head, not my heart.

Then it happened.  While I sat in my dirty kitchen, leafing through God’s Word, the words spoken by God to Joshua which my friend had read to me all those years ago, came alive. ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

I sat in my kitchen reading those words and acknowledged–I was weak, discouraged and afraid! And yet God was telling me not to be.

“But every part of my normal had changed,” I whined.  For it was true. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Then I thought: Had everything changed?

Yes, the earthly love of my life was gone but God was not! God was still God, still strong, still a God of encouragement, still a God of Power, and of Love, and of Courage!

In the days and weeks that followed, as the Truth of His Word permeated my being, my attitude changed, and my heart awakened to the beating of His.

Minute-by-minute and day-by-day, I reminded my heart that yes, I am weak, but my God is strong. I am afraid, but my God is Courageous.

This was a start for me. Fear continued to rear its ugly head, but courage was beginning to rule and reign. Daily I needed to apply God’s truth to my actions, take a step forward then two and three–sometimes followed by setbacks that were only momentary.

nofearGod did not give me a spirit of fear. I can do all things through Christ. My God will never leave me nor forsake me. Scripture has become my lifeline.

It’s now been two years since losing my husband, and though I may occasionally struggle with fear and discouragement, God is constant in His Truth. He does not change. He did not change the day I lost my Mark, and He will not change tomorrow.

Oh dear friend, your world changed the day your spouse passed from this life unto the next. This new journey is a challenge every step of the way, but your God will never change. He will be with you wherever you go!!

If you’ve never met this God of courage and strength, please allow one of your sister widows to pray with you by clicking on the contact button or leaving a message here. You are greatly loved!

Stepping outside the boat

by Nancy Howell

 

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

Matthew 14: 27-31 (NLT)

Fighting heavy waves…far from land…in the middle of the night…praying for relief….

Dear sisters, does this describe parts of your grief journey as you navigate the waters of life?

How many of you have cried out, frightened that the stormy waters and the waves will capsize the boat you are in?

In my marriage, I wasn’t the captain of our ship.  With a lot of patience and training, I became a pretty decent first mate, as my spouse and I sailed the sea of life.  We had defined roles.  I never steered, which was fine by me.

My husband, Mark, was the consummate captain.  He kept a close watch on the weather, he took all safety precautions, and made sure that we sailed on calm waters most every day of our life together.

Under his leadership, I never even thought about steering…I was content to be Gilligan to his Skipper, Mr. Spock to his Captain Kirk, jelly to his peanut butter.  It’s what worked for us, over the life of our marriage.

After losing him, I found myself lost, as well.  I’d never steered a boat.  Overnight, it was dumped into my lap–all of it.

God, I don’t know the first thing about navigating this boat.  What am I supposed to do?

In the midst of my storm, the waves are choppy, the wind is blowing, and I am desperate.  The wheel of the ship is spinning–no one’s in control.  The captain has gone on to his heavenly reward.

The ship is now in my hands,  the first mate, the left-handed girl from Western Kentucky, who hasn’t steered in 23 years.  In the vessel with me are our two sons.   They are certain I’ve got what it takes to lead them, even in the midst of the storm we’ve been pulled in to.

I cry out desperately, the sobs heaving in my chest, so loud that I can be heard over the high winds and crashing waves–I cry to my Father for help.

I see Jesus.  He’s walking on top of the storm, the waves, the wake, the churning mess of life that’s tossing my boat around.  And with each step He takes, the waters lie calmly beneath.

He beckons me to come out of the vessel.  This, dear sisters, is the ultimate stretch for me.  I don’t think “outside of the boat.”   I have a well-defined comfort zone, most happy while I am within its parameters, where I feel  safe and secure.

He’s asking me to step out in faith.  On the water.  Without a life jacket.  And walk towards Him.

Do I have the faith of Peter?  Not by a long shot.

But I am comforted by Peter’s very human response in the above passage.  He steps out, and is doing great, as long as he keeps his eyes focused on Jesus.  The waves, the wind, and the foaming sea begin to distract him–he takes his eyes off of his Savior–it is in that moment he begins to sink and drown.  He cries out.

Jesus grabs him by the arm, saving him. And He asks, ” You have so little faith!  Why did you doubt me?”

I’ve been steering our little boat for almost two years now.  We’ve had our share of storms, of downbursts and clouds.

But we’ve also had days of smooth sailing, with me at the wheel.

Again, the storm starts back up.  I cry out for help.

Jesus is once again asking me to come away from the wheel, step out of my comfort zone, and trust Him.    He wants me to climb over the side of this boat I finally have a handle on, and step out onto the deep treacherous water.

He’s pretty persistent when He needs to be—and pretty hard to ignore.

So I step out.  Out in faith.  Out of my comfort zone.  For His glory and His glory alone.  He tells me that together we will do wondrous things for His kingdom.

I just hope I am up for the challenge.

Heavenly Father,

Today I come to you, asking that you calm the seas of all my sisters who find their boats in the midst of a storm they cannot handle.  Many, like myself, never dreamed they would be in charge, by steering it, keeping it up to code, performing maintenance, ensuring it has enough fuel, making sure it is sea hardy. 

Give them the confidence and the strength and the know-how to steer their ship of life through whatever weather conditions that might be encountered. 

Whenever You come to them, walking on water, beckoning them to step out in faith, give them the strength to take that first step, to swing their legs over the side, and step onto the water, whether it is choppy, cold, or calm and crystal-clear. 
You and you alone have the power to calm the seas surrounding each of us.  Help us step outside our comfort zones for your glory.

 Amen

I’m not who I was….

by Nancy Howell

 

Twenty months ago today, I spent the last 24 hours of my life as a carefree married wife and mother.    The next day, my husband had “routine” surgery.  Five excruciatingly-long days later,  I became a widow.

I look back at that 48 year old woman today, and I hardly recognize her.

I’m not who I was.

In early 2011, I had the world on a string.  Working for spending money at a preschool as a teacher to two year olds, I was a dutiful wife and mother.  My husband was my best friend, the love of my life.  We worked to build our home and our marriage around God.  We had two boys that we adored.  We attended church, were involved in community and faith-based activities, and were counting down the days until July 2013, whenever my husband could take full retirement from his state job.  We would head north to family farm land in Kansas, where pasture acreage and a freshly-dug pond awaited us.  Life was sweet.

Then he died.

And although I couldn’t see it at the time, that’s where my transformation began.

Twenty months later, with the gift of hindsight, I see differences.  I have more grey hair.  There’s ten extra pounds on my frame, most likely from “grief eating.”  There are a few more wrinkles on my face.

But those are just the physical changes, all in outward appearance.

The inward transformation has been painstakingly beautiful, with the emphasis on “pain.”

Here are just a few:

I am more patient.

I am more confident, making decisions as the head of my family and household.

I am more empathetic, and can cry at a moment’s notice.

I am stronger than I thought I was.

I know first hand how short life can be, and I cram every bit of fun I can into each day God gives me.

I forgive more easily.

I love more enormously.

I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.

I thirst after God, and try to seek His input on every aspect of my family’s lives.

Am I perfect?  Heavens no!  Am I healed?  Not by a long shot.

I’m still under construction, thankful that God has great patience.

Just this weekend, the painful grief I thought I had left behind me reared its ugly head.  All because I was outdoors, with my late husband’s German shorthair pointer, as we received advanced training from her breeder.

My husband loved the outdoors, he loved to fish and to hunt pheasant and quail.  And he loved Maggie, his dog.

Since his death, I’ve learned to love and appreciate her as he did.  And I’ve learned to love to hunt pheasant and quail.

But seeing her work an open field, sniff out quail, and freeze into the most beautiful staunch point, caused my heart to skip a beat.  I finally saw her through his eyes, with a love and pride that had previously escaped me.

 

It made me proud, and at the same time, excruciatingly sad.

Life goes on after someone dies, no matter how important or incredibly loved that person might have been.  And that is hard for those of us left behind.

The important thing for widows to remember is this:  we must live our lives in such a way that there is only one death.  Those of us left must find purpose in some form or fashion, so that two people don’t die (one physically, one emotionally) in the process.

God can take our grief and use it to transform us into women that can make a difference in others’ lives, if we are willing to be refined and changed.

God is keeping careful watch over us and the future.  The Day is coming when you’ll have it all–life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. 

Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure;

genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.

When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

1 Peter 1:5-7 (MSG)

What will we become through the test of fire?  Only God knows.  He’s the one holding the blueprints.

 

“I’m not who I was” by Brandon Heath

 

Father God,

Thank you for loving us, for walking beside us through our grief, our transformation, and our daily struggles.  Give us the strength to be refined by the trials in our path.  Help us realize that tough hours, days, weeks, and months will make us stronger in the long run.  Don’t let our grief be for nothing.  Incorporate it into our souls with your transforming powers, making us better Christians, mothers, daughters, and friends.  You alone have the power.  You alone have our love.  In Jesus’ name I ask it all, Amen.