Thursday, November 26, 2015

In every thing give thanks

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus
concerning you.”—1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)

When I awoke this morning, I looked around my home and was really struck by how much I have to be thankful for in my life.

  • The crocheted afghan that Mac’s Aunt Bessie made when she was in her 90’s. It keeps me warm at night.
  • The picture that my dad colored when he was 9 years old: crayons on fabric, then ironed. His mom had it hanging in her home, and then dad had it hanging in his office, and Mac and I brought it home after my parents were both gone. We replaced the aging frame and now it hangs in my entryway over the dry sink that belonged to my mom’s mother. 
  • The “Balloon Seller” figurine that my mom so loved.
  • A punch bowl set for dolls that Mac’s mom cherished.
  • The photo of the pumpkin patch in Half Moon Bay that we took on our honeymoon.
  • The watercolor of a ship done by a dear friend.
  • The cross-stitch sampler that I did many years ago, with John 14:2-3 as it’s centerpiece. Mac had it framed and it has always had a prominent place in our home. 
  • Next to the sampler is a cross. This hung in my parents home, and we brought it home and placed it in our home. At the time we put it up, we prayed as a couple and gave our home to the Lord. We did the same when we moved here.
  • Hanging next to to the cross is our wedding invitation that a dear aunt had painted and framed. 
  • There is the painting that I purchased as a 21 year old. My friend, who was an artist, took me to a gallery and began teaching me about art for my home and I came home with this small painting. In another room I have a watercolor that my friend did for me.
  • The garden stone from my oldest son and his wife that reminds me daily to find strength and courage in the Lord (Psalm 31:24).
  • I’m drinking from a mug that was a present from my youngest son and his wife, that encourages me to rejoice and be glad in the Lord (Psalms 118:23-25).
  • The wood carvings that Mac did: the bearded man and the mushrooms. I marvel at how he could see art in hunks of branches on the ground.

All of this reminded me that while I may be “alone”, I am never alone. There are my loving parents who guided me, and put up with me, all those years; grandparents that were all a major part of my life and provided a safe haven for me; friends that have filled my life with joy and laughter; in-laws that raised a little boy to become a wonderful man and loving husband; “kids” who have brought laughter, love and joy into my life for many years; a husband who loved me unconditionally for 40 years and filled my life with so very much; and a Savior who loved me before I was created, and loves me still, and always will—even when I fail Him and pull away. 

Truly my life is rich. It’s been filled with love and joy, and I have hope for my eternal future. I am content and so very thankful.

Monday, November 16, 2015

“Precious in the sight of the Lord...”



“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
—Psalm 116:15 (KJV)

One year ago today, at 8:30am, my beloved husband passed away. He had reminded me many times, and especially during his final days, that he would be “absent from the body, and ... present with the Lord”. He was at peace with God’s plan for him. At the moment of Mac’s home going, I was reading the following verse in my Bible:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
—Joshua 1:9 (NASB)

Truly God has been a very real presence in my life this past year. He has comforted me, encouraged me, scolded me, uplifted me, taught me, and He has been with me through everything. Today I have a choice: I can spend the day in deep sadness arguing with God that He didn’t do as I wanted; or I can be thankful that God actually did answer Mac’s and my prayers—for our prayer was always for God’s perfect will in our lives. Today Mac is no longer in pain and he no longer suffers, instead he is enjoying eternity with his (and my) Savior—and I know that I will see him again some day; and so, today I am truly thankful.

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
—1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Crash and Burn

After being able to surrender so much to the Lord for the past 11 months, I recently took it all back and totally crashed and burned. It began when, based on the well meaning advice of some who have traveled this road, I began looking back at this time last year.

I had made notes last year during those final dark days last year, and so I opened up those notes and read and re-read them, and began writing. As I did, I began picking scabs off of almost healed wounds, and I found myself plunging—not sliding—plunging into the deep, dark depths of despair and sorrow; deeper and darker than right after Mac’s death. I wound up having horrible nightmares where I chased Mac but never caught up with him, I fought battles in those nightmares where I became wounded, and I woke up with my heart pounding, and my jaw sore from grinding my teeth. Worse, my spirit was raw and aching and I was lost in a sea of misery. By Saturday night I was filled with such anxiety and fear that I was unable to sleep at all. 

I’m aware that grief is different for everyone, and how you approach your grief is different. I’ve had well meaning people tell me that they wonder if I really loved Mac, and they wonder if I really miss him—simply because I’ve been able to turn all of this over to the Lord and rely on Him for my strength, comfort and joy. Yes, joy. I’m not joyous that Mac is no longer here, after all, he was a huge part of my life and I miss him terribly; but I can rejoice that Mac is healed, happy and in heaven. I can rejoice that I belong to a Savior who loves me so much He died for me (and Mac – and YOU!) so that I might have forgiveness of my sins and spend eternity in glory. 

Yet with all that God has done for me, I took my eyes from Him, failed to really pray about this step of examining the past, and failed to counsel with my pastor and tell him how desperately I was struggling with this anniversary. I know that my pastor is a godly man who would have guided me, but I told myself that he had enough burdens without my adding to his schedule. When he finds this out, he is likely going to be upset with me for thinking this way; and he would be right in being upset. After all, God placed me in this particular church, under Pastor Mike’s leadership and guidance for a reason, and I failed to follow God’s leading in this whole situation. I’ll share something else: if Mac were able to, he would tell me my actions were wrong. For several years Mac told me FBC was a good church, with good people, a godly pastor and we should go: but I refused. So all those years, Mac knew and I rejected; and now, once again, I have rejected the strength and help that God has provided for me.

Sunday I was totally exhausted physically and spiritually, but the Holy Spirit nudged me and I knew it would be good for me to go to church and sit under the preaching of God’s Word. So off I went. As I pulled into the parking lot the Holy Spirit once again nudged me and some great verses in Philippians came to mind, and I realized what I needed to do: stop looking back, and once again look forward. 

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 3:13,14 (KJV)

So I paused in the parking lot, asked God to help me look ahead, and stepped out of the car. Oh, I wasn’t instantly “okay”; but I could see a better day ahead. The music spoke to my heart, and the message was just what I needed to hear, although I’m sure as pastor studied, he didn’t know how it would apply to me. In fact, I challenge you to read Romans 9:10-13 and see if you find an application there for a grieving widow. ;)  Trust me, God’s Word never returns void, and the help I needed was there.

I spent Sunday and Monday catching up on my lost sleep. I also spent a great deal of time reading my Bible and praying. I have also learned that my struggle was shared with my church family and they were all praying for me. What a blessing!

Today I am better emotionally, and much better spiritually. I am once again sleeping well, resting on the promise of God:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.”—Psalm 4:8 (NASB)

There may be difficult days ahead, but I am determined to look forward not backwards, to hold tighter to God, to seek godly counsel when needed, and to rejoice in whatever God has in store me. I covet your prayers for me as I go through this time.

Friday, November 6, 2015

My first Thanksgiving

I don’t remember when the invitation was extended, I only remember thinking, “Oh good, I won’t be alone”; and so I agreed to spend Thanksgiving the same way Mac and I had always spent Thanksgiving: at a certain friends house with the same gathering of friends. I even found the strength to fix a dish and take it along. That could only have come from the Lord, as I had no strength of my own. 

I can’t tell you that I had peace about my decision, and I can’t tell you that I didn’t either. I was numb. Totally numb. After all, Thanksgiving was 11 days after M’s death and life was a daily struggle at this point. Still, being alone on a holiday can be difficult and I wasn’t ready to stay home and mourn, but I wasn’t ready to be happy and celebrate either. Actually, I didn’t know what I wanted or how I *should* react. I was facing each day only through God’s strength and guidance.

“The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.
He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
—Deuteronomy 31:8 (NASB)

Thanksgiving came, my friends picked me up and off we went. Every step up to the door was heart pounding emotional pain, but I asked God to give me grace and strength and with each step He comforted me.

Everyone was gracious and welcoming, although there was something difficult in every greeting. I realize now that they were also mourning and hurting, and so seeing me was both comforting, as well as a painful reminder of the friend they had lost. Conversation was our normal conversation, and I found comfort in that, although I really didn’t care about the subject. I had no interest in anything other than getting through another day. Then came mealtime, and suddenly the conversation turned to the loss of M.

They shared their heartbreak, they shared their anger, some of them even said things that were horribly painful to my heart. I wanted to scream at them to STOP!—but I didn’t. I really didn’t have the emotional strength to speak up and tell them to stop saying these things. I reminded myself that none of them knew the Lord and so they had no comfort of any kind. In the back of my mind I knew that they weren’t aware of how painful their comments were to me. So I listened and quietly prayed—and all the while my broken heart was breaking into more pieces.

I was so glad when it was time to head for home. I needed to be alone with the Lord so that I could cry, mourn, pray, tell God how angry I was, and let Him wrap me in His arms and hold me and keep me through the rest of the night. 

Last year I had no idea “how” to be a widow; I hadn't yet learned that there is no right way to be a widow. I had no clue how to face the holidays. I’d never read an article on surviving the holidays. In some ways I wish I had stumbled across “Survival Tips for Handling the Holidays” as it might have spared me a great deal of emotional pain. Yet by God’s grace I managed my first Thanksgiving as a widow. What will this year bring? I have no idea what plans the Lord has for me, but I know that He will open just the right doors, He will keep me, and He will comfort me. And for that, I am eternally thankful.

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Failure?

In today’s mail was an envelope hand addressed to my late husband. I knew what it was without even opening it: his 2015 dues card for an organization in which he had a life-membership. Mac was active in this organization even before I met him, and it was fairly important to him; but after we moved away he never kept in touch with anyone from this group. I’ll admit to being a bit stunned when I saw the envelope and I wondered why they were sending this to him.

Don’t they know he’s dead?

Then I realized that I never notified them personally, because a friend (who also belonged to this organization and had—strangely enough—also moved here) had promised to take care of that for me. Obviously he didn’t follow through on his promise. So now it falls to me.

I sat down to write them a letter and began:
Dear Robert,
It is with the deepest sorrow that I must inform you that Mac passed away on 11/16/14. I apologize for taking so long to contact you, but I  …
WAIT! Why am I apologizing for taking my time notifying a club? Mac never felt the need to keep in touch, and obviously none of them ever emailed him or wrote or called … so why am I feeling so apologetic for my failure? No wait! I didn’t fail. I just relied on someone else to keep their promise and never gave this another thought. I sat at the table stunned at the thoughts running through my head. Why did this friend not follow through with his promise? Didn’t he care? Didn’t he realize this would eventually become my problem? Didn’t he realize how painful it would be for me to deal with this after all this time? I remember him saying that I would have enough to deal with, and he'd like to take this burden from my, so why didn't he? Then I realized that the last time I spoke to he and his wife, her farewell was, “Well, maybe we’ll see you sometime in the future.” Click. 

Perhaps I should have figured out that without Mac, I’m not important to this couple. I’m aware that many people have a hard time dealing with a widow (or widower), as we represent a visual reminder of their own mortality and it’s not always easy to face that part of your future. I’m also aware that some couples are uncomfortable around me simply because I’m not a couple. I see this with friends who get divorced as well.

Still I’m frustrated at this mans casual way of not following through with a promise, and now I’m left trying to figure out how to explain that my husband has been dead for almost a year and I’m just getting around to telling this group about his death.

I want to find a way to be gentle with my news, but also be a witness. I want this group of people to know that Mac is in heaven, and that they can see him again some day if they know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Would the secretary read that kind of a letter at a club meeting? Maybe not, but still the news needs to be told. Mac would want it, and God requires it of me.
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”—Mark 16:15 (NASB)

So now I’m praying and asking God to guide me as I write, and that the hearts of those who read and hear the news will be open to the good news of Jesus Christ.