A Summer Filled With Choices

Choosing Life Doesn’t Necessarily Make Things Easier Instantly

I love summer! I love the freedom of non-heavy clothes, the ease of dinners cooked on a grill, the sounds of neighbors who’ve come outside! What I don’t like (in addition to winter!) is sweating – and I’ve been doing plenty of that this week! Why? Because I like flowers! And they need tending! And the sun is out . . .

When you’re walking through grief, it can feel like sweating all the time! (Or snowing all the time!) There will be times when it seems like it’ll never finish – when it seems like you’re living in two worlds: the world you feel, and that second world you believe. You believe God is there, you know He is – yet there are days when you feel the heavy sweat or the deep coldness of aloneness. On those days, and they will come, there are things to remember which will help you leave your alone state and move into the company of what you really do believe:

1. Remember God’s past kindnesses. Recount them over and over. They will remind you that you have a future and a hope!

A few weeks ago, before I celebrated the 32nd anniversary of my husband’s move to heaven, I sat in my bedroom “alone,” grappling with a change in my body that did not bode well in its self-prediction to me. I fully recognized what it “could be,” and then I turned my thoughts to, “Lord, I remember . . . and how You turned it around in a way that just couldn’t have happened on its own!” and “Lord, I remember . . .” and I remembered in detail three incredible moments of my life’s history – separated by 27 years of time – where God intervened and turned life around for me, and peace filled my being! “You did. . . Lord, and I believe I’ll see it again!”  We do sorrow, but we sorrow with hope! This is not all there is!

2. Remember to choose life today. Choosing life doesn’t necessarily make things easier all at once.

The young virgin, Mary, chose to let God’s Word happen in her and endured the stigma of bearing a Son out of wedlock all the rest of her life. Jesus Himself chose to leave heaven to become our Redeemer and was hated by those He’d come to save. Yet both reaped great reward later for the life choices they made! How do you “choose life?” By saying, “Lord, I don’t understand Your ways. I don’t even like them sometimes. But I know You know things I don’t, and based on that, You made decisions that make me feel ripped wide open – I’ll trust Your heart when I don’t get Your actions!”

3. Intentionally keep moving forward. Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss.

And then take whatever time it takes for you! You’ll have conflicting masses of feelings – there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just reacting to the end of familiar patterns that you didn’t want to end. Keep the Lord involved in all your feelings; don’t hide them from Him or yourself.  As long as You keep Him involved you’ll come out alright. You’re normal for where you are.

And remember that, above all, you are loved by a Love who really does know what grief is like!    

Our New Father’s Day

While many across the country honor dads in June on Father’s Day, our family has chosen a different time for remembering Father’s Day. The date of my husband’s death is the day that God became Father to a dadless group of children, according to Psalm 68:5 that declares God to be a Father to the fatherless. Because of this truth, God gave our family a creative way to remember this day in our lives by leading us to consider our Remembrance Day as our new Father’s Day, replacing the traditional Father’s Day recognized by the world. Yes, we may have skipped Sunday School here and there to avoid the pain of making cards for a dad who is no longer here. We have acknowledged that in the midst of suffering there is a holiness wrapped around the acceptance of God’s sovereignty. Even though the day is tender, we have incorporated lots of traditions to celebrate this day making it sweet and memorable. If you have turned to God as Father, perhaps you might want to consider re-locating Father’s Day on your calendar as well.

My husband’s specialty was pancakes, so we would go out for breakfast to enjoy pancakes or eat them at home – I wanted them to always remember eating smiley face pancakes with Daddy! Because we didn’t have pancakes that often, especially colored ones, this is a treat! Nineteen years later, the tradition remains.

Since we were eating ice cream at the exact time of my husband’s death, we have included that “bittersweet” memory into this day of remembering. We head to the ice cream parlor at the end of the day to celebrate that God is sovereign. He saw the big picture – our family enjoying ice cream cones while daddy was making the choice to end his life.

Children love balloons, so I would buy balloons, one black and one of “their color” (each was assigned a color at birth – it has proven to be a great way to organize things with 8 kids, and they all think that color is now their “favorite” color). For devotions that night the releasing of balloons symbolizes two areas of reflection:

  1. Black balloons – I ask them to dig in their hearts to uncover any unforgiveness, anger, or pain that might need to be released. Tears are shed, and hearts are cleansed once again.
  2. Colored balloons – we thank God for all the ways He has been a father to them over the last year. We offer up a sacrifice of praise thanking Him for His faithfulness. He really is a good, good Father.

We cry – we laugh – we remember. From time to time, I would share with my littlest ones, and now my children share with their children, a story they need to know, “Once upon a time there was a real daddy living in this house, but God…” They listen intently as if I were telling a fairytale. I love to tell how God became their Father, how He is working all things together for good and how He uses everything for His glory! And perhaps there is a similarity to the ole fashioned fairytale…they lived happily ever after!

 

 

Reading Resources: Crossing to the Other Side of Grief

No matter how far down the road of grief you have traveled, one month to 20 years, renewing our hope is essential. Every battle we face must be fought with the hope of heaven. On the hardest days, we need other people to hold on to that hope for us. We need to know that we aren’t the only ones trying to survive the pains of death. We need to see that people have made it to the other side, life after death. That’s what a good book can do. It can reinforce the truth – the truth that all hope is not lost, that there is purpose in our pain, and that Christ is still faithful. The list here is not exhaustive, many Christians have suffered and written to say that God is still who He says He is, these are just some of our (Lori and Alex) favorites.

Note: If you only have time in your busy schedule to read just one book, pick the Word of God, every time! There is no replacement for the hope it offers and the healing it brings.

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Hands down this is my favorite first book to give to one starting a journey in grief. 

This beautifully illustrated book describes and defines the grief process in such a way that a five-year-old to 95-year-old can understand.  Without overwhelming the one suffering, it educates them on what to expect.  Wrap this book up with a box of Kleenex or a handkerchief and deliver this as your first attempt to show compassion to the hurting one.

The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot

Great read for anyone along the widow journey.

Few people understand the suffering of a widow quite like Elisabeth Elliot. Enduring the tragedy of losing two husbands in her lifetime, she brings real hope to tired and lonely hearts. In this book Elliot balances love and challenge perfectly. She acknowledges the crippling pain of our loss and grieves with her readers, but she doesn’t stay there. She reminds the reader that this suffering we now face is meant to push us to a greater understanding of Christ and his love for us and the broken people of the world. This book taught me to embrace my loneliness as a gift from God himself and to use this hurt to push me into a hurting world that needs Christ.

A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser

One of the first books I read on grief was written by a man who lost his mother, wife, and daughter (three generations) in one tragic accident. His story impacted me deeply. The anointing over the sharing of lessons learned tutored me at the beginning of my own journey. “In coming to the end of ourselves, we can come to the beginning of a new life – one marked by spiritual depth, joy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings. If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live well, to love life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness but even in the midst of it.”

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Good for the hurting trying to put words to their pain.

Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his son, and like any who lose someone they love, felt the all-consuming sting of death on his life. In his attempt to express his pain, he wrote several short journals some memories, some questions, some moments of deep pain and moments of deep hope all with simplicity and candor. This short book, literally gave words to my pain. I cried with it and laughed with it. Wolterstorff walked with me in the hurt and made me feel like I was not alone.

TIP TO THE READER: Make sure you make it all the way to the end and watch how Christ starts to transform this hurting parent’s heart and orient his mind toward the hope of Heaven.

The Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason

Great to read devotionally. Good to give to guys going through a trial.

The story of Job and his suffering is more than most of us can comprehend—he lost his family, possessions and his own health. Even though our struggle may not compare with the amount of loss Job experienced, at some point in our own process, we may feel it is close. Job can be a difficult book to understand. Mike Mason does an excellent job of breaking it down into bite-size pieces to read devotionally over time. The Word of God on the book of Job will speak and encourage you in your own trial, “through Job we learn the secret of the gospel: that ‘mercy is the permission to be human.’ The Lord never gave Job an explanation for all he had been through. His only answer was Himself. But as Job discovered, that was enough. The Gospel According to Job sensitively reminds us that it’s all right to doubt, to be confused, to wonder–in short, to be completely human. But what will heal us and help us endure is a direct, transforming encounter with the living God.”

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

For all who feel like their pain is too much and too hard to keep going!

Written by a man who lost his young child, Levi Lusko shocks the readers system back to life with so much hope for the future. Lusko gives the grieved the much-needed push to keep going! He encourages the reader the stare in the face of tragedy and fear and fight it with the power of Christ. I read this book in the first year of becoming a widow and was consoled in my pain and energized to use it to help others see their need for the Gospel in the midst of earth-shattering pain.

The Undistracted Widow by Carol W. Cornish

Good for widows in the 2-3rd year.

There comes a point in the process where life comes after death and it’s time to move forward.  The Undistracted Widow challenges widows to look at their new season in life as purposed.  With this perspective, women are encouraged to look at what God says about the widow, her identity, emotions, and direction encouraging her to move forward by putting her trust in God.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper

For all who want to have a greater understanding of suffering.

Suffering brings about wrestling even for those strong in the faith. Wrestling with the truth that God is in complete control over every aspect of life and death. If God is ultimately the one in complete control, how and why does He allow us to suffer?  If He really loved me, He would have stopped the pain – wouldn’t He? These issues are handled Scripturally with compassion and understanding from those who have also suffered.

Embrace the Pain

Denial seems like such a safe state to be in. Perhaps this is why the body goes into a coma when a painful physical injury occurs, so it isn’t fighting with itself in order to heal.

For the first few months after a husband’s death, it is common and somewhat necessary to walk in denial instead of reality. Around the 6-9th month, however, the “shell of denial” will begin to break off leading the grieving one to make a choice – stay in the coma of denial, which would eventually lead to emotional death or wake up and begin to deal with the pain.

One morning during my quiet time, God took me back to my labor and delivery days. I heard God tell me repeatedly, “Embrace the pain!” Every time I would hear this admonition I would ask, “What?! Did I hear you right?” and “How?! Can I embrace the pain without it hurting?” Because He knows me, He gave me an illustration that was easy for me to relate to – childbirth.  Moms, remember back to the last weeks of your pregnancy. You were ready to pay any price and do anything to deliver that baby, right? You are elated when you feel the first contraction! Your heart jumps and you’re overwhelmed with excitement. The time has finally come! You readily embrace the first few contractions because you know that you will soon hold the fruit of your efforts.

Now remember the delivery, three or four hours in, or even minutes for the fortunate ones, you are still ready to do what it takes, but the experience of labor is beginning to lose its thrill. You cringe when each contraction comes along, and at times, you even may want to resist the contraction. Your body goes through transition and the pain becomes intense. You really aren’t sure you are going to make it.  It is at this point the doctor or midwife comes along and gently, but firmly says, “You need to embrace the pain to deliver the baby. Relax and give into each contraction and that will bring forth your child!”

“What? Embrace the pain?!” At the moment, embracing pain seems impossible, but the reward ahead moves you to do your best to “relax and give into the pain.” At that point, your body is free to do what it needs to do and before you know it, you are holding the fruit of your labor!

Emotionally, the grief experience is similar. We could deny something has happened and that God is at work. We could continue to walk in an empty shell (or impregnated one), but God has encouraged us to go ahead and relax, embrace the pain and watch Him bring forth life.

For me, this meant accepting the reality of my huge loss, and yes, that hurt! Much like the doctor or midwife though, God can be trusted. When He calls us to accept the pain and press into the new life He wants to bring, He is trustworthy. In the “birth pains” you now feel, focus on the promise of God that He is with you even in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). I know it might not feel like it today, but God is at work and will bring forth the fruit of your labor in the land of suffering.

“God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Genesis 41:52

 

 

Your Maker Is Your Husband . . .

The initial command from God to men who become husbands is that they love their wives – and not just emotionally.  Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” Notice that this is not a taking love but a giving love – a self-giving love. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about God in thirty-three years of walking with Him it’s that He never asks us to do what He doesn’t do!

When my husband died unexpectedly, 3 months and 8 days before our 25th wedding anniversary, I missed his expressions of love terribly. Those expressions weren’t always perfect, any more than mine were to him! Humanity has a way of doing “less than.” But he loved me, and I knew it – and I needed and missed them!

If my Maker, my God, in real fact was to act as a husband to me now, how would that look?

May I give you one example?

The first Sunday of May, 1991, I came in from church feeling emotionally exhausted from dealing with my new “widow role.” Philosophically I wondered how that “widow role” fit in with the scripture I’d discovered in Isaiah 54, “Your Maker is your husband . . .” but I was tired on that Sunday afternoon, and I didn’t want to think anymore; I decided to take a nap.

I don’t know how long I slept, but as I felt myself coming awake I was aware of these words in my consciousness: “You’ll be alright!”

I could hear the wind escalate alarmingly. I got out of the rocker where I was sleeping, walked across the room to the sliding glass doors opposite me and watched as what the news would later call a “just below tornadic storm” ripped across the lake at my yard’s far edge, its center seeming to be on the next street over from my house. I watched in awe as that heavily wooded street laid down its tall pine trees in rapid order so that houses barely visible before now stood in plain sight. As suddenly as the storm came up, it abated, and I opened my door and stepped out to walk around and see what had happened on my street. None of my trees were down, and no damage was visible to the house – a neighbor’s tree had come down on my driveway but my car sat safely in front of my garage. The street next to mine was closed for 3 days while the city harvested the trees that had fallen during that heavy wind. If you look at the newspaper for those days (Columbus, GA), you’ll see that the city actually sent buses out to pick up the residents who needed to go to work but couldn’t drive out because trees were down everywhere.

Hours later, in the evening time, I really “took in” what had happened that day. My Maker, my God, had shown His love for me on a scale greater than my earthly husband ever could have. Little by little we learn that though our roles have changed and our husbands are no longer in their place in our lives, we are not “out there” on our own!

Voice of the fatherless – The Remembrance Day by Kayla Apon Whittinghill

Remembrance Days are actually biblical.  We see in Scripture encouragement to stop and remember.  The Remembrance Day is the date a precious one departs from this world leaving life to never be the same again.  For many, no matter how hard you try, you will remember on the anniversary of your loved one’s death.  May you also take time to remember the faithfulness of God during your time of suffering.

Today’s article introduces a new section to the blog team, the voice of the fatherless.  We pulled out an old article of remembrance because we felt it was worth remembering.  Kayla Apon Whittinghill shares lessons from her pain:

Approaching May 17th each year feels a little bit like walking out of the mall after shopping only to find that it is absolutely pouring outside. You have no umbrella – your only choice is to dash to your car and embrace the inevitable drenching of you and all your belongings. You are safe once you get to your car, but the process is always a little messy.

This day feels the same to me – there’s no way to avoid the tears, the remembering, and the revisiting of scars that many times go unnoticed. It’s not fun. I will get wet, but on the other side, usually the morning of May 18th, I feel cleansed and at peace after tasting of His faithfulness once again.

12 years without my daddy.

Has it really been that long? In some ways it feels just like yesterday that mom came downstairs and told us through tears that we had a new daddy. On that day we joined the privileged group of people that are particularly protected and cared for by God – “A Father of the Fatherless and defender of the widow is God in His holy dwelling.”

“Do not move the ancient boundary or go into the fields of the fatherless. For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.” (Proverbs 23:10-11.)

I never would have chosen to make the trade between a natural daddy and having God only as my Father – but I’m so thankful that God decided for me.

Every year the loss is felt in a new way. Last year, it was the pain of not having him here to know my husband; this year it hurts that he isn’t here to rejoice in this pregnancy, and I know next year I will long for him to be able to know and love my son.

The thing that hurts the most is that he chose to leave. He took his own life – no one but the enemy influenced his death. He didn’t have to do it. Yes, even in this, my soul is at rest because of what I know of my God:

  1. He is sovereign. Nothing can happen to me outside of His consent and all-wise plan.
  2. He can do me no wrongOnly because of the cross am I experiencing such grace in this life. Even the most severe trial is a taste of mercy because the pain doesn’t even to compete to the wrath I deserve but will not experience because Jesus drank it all for me.
  3. Knowing Jesus better because of this is totally worth it. If this is the way God has chosen to introduce me more deeply to Christ, if this is His preferred method of making me more like Him, and if there are lessons and treasures that can be gleaned from this trial that can be obtained in no easier way…then I am grateful. So. Very. Grateful.
  4. Knowing Jesus even just a little bit better is infinitely worth any amount of pain I must experience in the process. He is just so good.

I will definitely cry a lot on May 17th…I always do. But even in the pain I know that I do not grieve like someone who has no hope. I will see my daddy again. My pain can only go so far – and no farther, because Jesus is coming back and I will see my Savior’s face, He will wipe the tears from my eyes, and then I will always be with the Lord.

“Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance. Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:8-12, 16

 

The Do-Not’s of Meaningful Care for the Widow

Job is a familiar book of a man who lost everything that was precious to him, his family, his possessions, and even his own health. Many people came to comfort him, but no one understood what he was really going through. His comment during his peak grief season was, “Miserable comforters are you all!” While your widowed friend may not experience the depth of suffering that Job faced, she may identify with several aspects of his pain, feeling as though she is the modern day JobetteYour part in her story is crucial. She needs friends and family to offer their support and presence, not opinions and misinterpretation of God’s work in her life. Let’s learn from Job’s friends to avoid their mistakes. Let’s comfort her in ways that deeply bless her, knowing that one day she may turn around and comfort as she has been comforted (1 Corinthians 1:3-5).

How to be Jobette’s Friend

How to serve the widow in a way that will best serve her and her children:

  1. Do not compare your experience with death and grief with hers. Do not say that you understand what she is going through. Her story is her own. While you may have had an experience with death, she really needs to know that you do not know exactly what she is feeling at this time.
  2. Do not evaluate her grieving process during the first few years.  Many well-meaning friends and family will issue a report card assessing her progress–she is grieving too much or too little. Grieving takes time no matter how hard one tries to speed up the process. She does not want to be graded and watched as if she were living in a fish bowl.
  3. Do not expect her to say thank you. She is appreciative but overwhelmed. Not only is it difficult to remember to express gratitude, but she may not have time with all that she is now dealing with. She may also feel uncomfortable being on the receiving end of life.
  4. Do not assume she is prideful because she does not ask for help. Often, she doesn’t think to ask for help, doesn’t know who to ask for help, or feels she has asked for help too many times.
  5. Do not get offended if she forgets an important celebration in your life. Grief is hard work and consumes her energy. She will return again, but it will take time.
  6. Do not consider her personality change as permanent. She is not able to focus on your own problems now. She may appear to be self-focused, but this will not be forever. While you love her unconditionally, you are modeling the comfort she will offer to others one day.
  7. Do not make empty commitments. If you say you will cut her grass, make sure to follow through.

Let’s Talk About Death by Ryan Ingraffia

Last weekend, death clawed its way back into my family’s lives all too soon after the loss of my husband. A fresh scab was torn off before it had time to heal properly. My Aunt Louise’s life long journey ended, and she left the world surrounded by all 7 of her sisters, her mom, and her two daughters. Louise suffered from a brain tumor over 20 years ago and had a few surgeries to remove the tumor. Doctors had said she had weeks, maybe months to live. The entire family prepared themselves to send her off over two decades ago. However, God had other plans and said her time on Earth was not finished yet. Although Louise’s life looked different after her surgeries, she had the best caregivers to make her last 20 years of life happy and comfortable. My mom tells me the way she left was actually beautiful. All of the girls were singing childhood camp songs and laughing along as they held her hand. Louise apparently had enough of their singing and said, “I’m out of here.” We know she left laughing inside and comforted as she was surrounded by an enormous amount of love.

I was not able to travel to my Aunt this weekend, and perhaps that was okay. I spent the weekend with a very dear friend of mine who has also experienced quite a bit of loss in her life, as well. A lot of our conversations somehow revolved around dying, death, and Heaven. And to be honest, it is a topic that is just not talked about enough. A lot of people try to change the subject quickly as they don’t know what to say, or they don’t understand it, or maybe they do understand it, but it is something that is impossible to wrap their minds around. And maybe it takes losing someone to be able to converse with others about death and Heaven.

We, in a general sense, ignore death because it is just too scary and too sad to comprehend. It is undeniably awful for us who are left without our mom, our husband, our friend, our child. How do we go on? How do we do holidays without them? Who do we call when we need advice or share good news with? Death is absolutely devastating to us, and God is devastated for us. He hates that our heart is broken, and he grieves with us. Mine and Matt’s friend wrote a letter to me shortly after his death. He shared with me this verse:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ”. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

He told me that when he tries to comprehend the loss of someone, he reads this verse. He says it is actually hard to believe verse 55 when we ask, “Oh death, where is your sting?” because it hurts us, it shocks us, and it devastates us. But then he says that verse 56 points out that the sting of death is sin. The reason why it hurts is because life was not supposed to be this way. We were meant to be eternal beings but then- sin. He says, we have to remind ourselves that we are validated in the feeling of this sting, but we have to believe in what this verse is really telling us. We should understand that compared to the victory of Christ and the eternal victory that we will experience, this current sting of death is small. Can you imagine that? If you are currently walking through, or have walked through (or you will walk through- one day) pain, that is so dark and deep, that it will be insignificant to the amazing-ness that is Heaven? So, if this pain is unbearably terrible, imagine what Heaven will be like…

The next verse,

 “58 Therefore, my beloved brother, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

We must hold onto and focus on the promise of Heaven. And we should talk about death. A lot. I believe that our fear of dying would subside if we get comfortable talking about the afterlife in Heaven. Therefore, if we become less afraid of death, we will be able to live a fuller life on a day-to-day basis.

And for just a minute, let’s set our grief aside and think about our loved ones who are embarking on their journey of Heaven. Levi Lusko states in his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion,

“As agonizing and painful as it can be, death is the ultimate upgrade for the believer: moving from the tent into the home Jesus has been preparing for you.”

My husband, an avid swimmer and golfer, is probably up in Heaven swimming laps and never getting tired. He probably has a golf game under par, every single time. He may be making beats with his friend, Lex, who joins him up there. Matt has been upgraded from a lap pool to an endless ocean, his swing is always just right and the weather conditions are in his favor to at least par every hole, and his music has rhythms and beats that we could never create on Earth. My Aunt Louise is now living it up with her witty and loud personality she had when she was younger. There are no air holes in her Wendy’s frosty and the cranberry sauce comes perfectly out of the can every single time. (Writing this makes me wish I knew her a little better before she got sick. I feel like I would have more things to say. I’ve been told she was the fun one and always had a good time; she sounds a lot like my Matt). Now, I’m not the most educated person when it comes to Heaven, I still have a lot to learn. I have been told different things about Heaven. I hear that you are so busy worshiping God that you don’t need the things you longed for on Earth, like a swimming pool or the perfect frosty, but this is just what I imagine and what comforts me. Everyone is different!

When someone asks about how you are doing, or mentions your lost loved one, maybe instead of welling up with tears of sadness, well up with tears of happiness as they have received the premium upgrade from Earth to Heaven. Think about how happy they must be. There are no more bad days, no more aches and pains.

So, let’s talk about dying, death, and Heaven. The Lord promises us that we will experience great heartache. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will sooner or later. Believe me, my life was pretty cushy five months ago. Nothing bad really has ever happened to me or my family, and I never thought it would! We have had a few broken bones, a few moves across the country, we lost our grandpa to a short battle with cancer, but we were always more than okay. In 4 months, my mom has lost her son-in law and her sister. I know it is hard and it stinks FOR US. But for THEM we should actually be really happy.

Death, where is your sting? Death, you do not win.

Death, there is never a good time for you to knock on our door—you will have to claw your way in. But death, you are the next step to an everlasting world with our family and our God for eternity.

 

 

God Really Does Provide

God is an absolutely Fascinating Being!

On the evening of June 5, 1986, my husband died unexpectedly. You may have experienced something akin to what I did in those early days following his death – facts were horrifyingly all too real, and unexplainably miles away at the same time!

Mostly I still felt like “me.”  I felt like I was thinking clearly and making right decisions. And in some ways I was, which is why it surprised me more than anybody to discover I was off kilter in other ways!

When a nationally-known evangelist, who was in Columbus at the time, asked me two days after Bob had died to secure a bank loan for him as “God had told him to build a church in Columbus,” it seemed right to me and I did it. Is anybody surprised to learn that he put the money in his pocket and left town?

At first I was sure he would make it good. He had a reputation as a “man of God;” he had looked at me with tears in his eyes as he shared how God had called him to build this church. Then I grew really angry as I came to grips with the facts that the money was gone. I didn’t tell anybody what had happened – my boys had just lost their father; they didn’t need to know about any other losses.

Early one morning in January, 1987, I was out walking and talking rather animatedly, though silently, with God about what this man had done when He brought me to a total standstill. Very, very clearly He spoke into my heart: “You don’t think what this man did is going to change what I can do, do you?” And honestly it didn’t take me very long to assent – “No, I don’t believe what he did will stop You from doing what You will do.” And I had no idea what He meant to do.

Skip forward a year: Remember I said I hadn’t told anybody about the loss. I still hadn’t! One of my husband’s cousins, a person with whom I had no deep association – we saw each other mostly on Thanksgivings – died, and for no reason I can give except that God “did it,” left me in her will one-half of what had been stolen from me!

Skip forward another eleven months: And, no I still hadn’t told anybody about the loss. The sister to my husband’s cousin died and left me in her will more than one-half of what had been stolen! God had returned all that “evangelist” had stolen, with interest! I have absolutely no reason to believe these cousins had conspired together to make up the loss. They didn’t know there was one!

I don’t know what has happened in your life. What I do know is that when a fisherman-disciple needed tax money, Jesus put it in a fish’s mouth and he paid the bill.  When a widow needed food for herself and her son, God gave it to her through a flour bin and an oil bottle that never ran dry. What I do know is that God didn’t promise to take care of us only if we never did anything stupid!

“Call unto Me,” He said, “and I will show you great and mighty things that you can’t even imagine!” Jeremiah 33:3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Death

After I was informed of my husband’s death, I realized my life was not ever going to be the same. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but there really wasn’t much time for that anyways. There were legal issues to deal with, memorials to help organize, preparations to be made in order to move back to the states, and a funeral to arrange. This felt like more than enough for me to deal with while processing my new reality, so I will be forever grateful for our church, community, friends, and family for stepping in and taking care of the small things, like making me eat—which are truly the big things.

The first year after my husband died is still pretty blurry. I think it always will be because the “widow’s fog” was so thick and heavy during this time. I was basically living on auto-pilot simply trying to focus on breathing, eating, showering, and sleeping. Every emotion you could think of was a tornado inside of me. I wanted to be around people, but then when I was, I just wanted to be alone. Ultimately, I just wanted to go back to my old life and be with Michael. And when I was asleep at night, I was with him, but every time I woke up I had to retell myself what had happened. Laying in my bed in the morning and reprocessing everything was something I would dread before I fell asleep the night before. As crazy as it sounds, there were moments I would wake up and try to believe that my real life was actually a horrible nightmare—but trying to believe a lie, never makes it truth. There are so many delicate struggles I wouldn’t have ever imagined that come along with a great loss.

My new life was weird. It was absolutely nothing like what I had planned. I felt like I had to start my life over again, but I didn’t know where to begin. My first year of widowhood I lived with my parents, so my next step would have to be moving out on my own. As much as I wanted to be living on my own, I was scared. Nevertheless, I began tr

ying to find someplace to rent until the widow’s fog had lifted and I would be mentally able to buy a home. After much trial and error (and a lot of prayer), I ended up renting a little house with the most amazing landlords I could have ever asked for. Living on my own as a single mom was a major adjustment, but I’m so glad God had me take that step of faith, because He has grown my trust in Him so much through the process and continues to as new steps arise.

For me, one of the hardest parts of adjusting to living without my husband was when the sun went down. I would rock my little baby to sleep, lay him in his crib, slowly tiptoe out of the room, and gently shut the door. My feeling of accomplishment that I had gotten him to sleep soon turned into a desire to wake him up. With my son in bed, and my dog curled up on the couch, the house was quiet. I felt the overwhelming need for my husband to be there with me and I wanted a distraction. There was no amount of earnest desire that could make him appear though, so I had to find a way to cope. At first, coping was going to sleep immediately after putting my son down for bed in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Eventually, I realized this wasn’t going to make it go away, so I had a choice to make. Was I going to believe that God himself would show up like He says He will and be my Comforter or not? Instead of believing the lie I heard every night, “You’re alone,” I had to choose the truth and believe God was with me.

By God’s faithfulness, the evenings are no longer a time I dread. However, when one struggle fades away, another seems to take its place. Grief has been a shape-shifter for me. Today, I have a 2-year-old son that is trying to figure out what a ‘daddy’ is. If you show my son a picture of his dad he will no doubt say, “That’s Daddy!” But because he has no context of what a ‘daddy’ is yet, he’ll also ask me after I speak with a male cashier at the store, “You talkin’ ta daddy, Mama?” To which, I remind him on his own level that daddy died and he doesn’t live on earth anymore. As much as I wish it didn’t sting, it does. Right now, in his 2-year-old mind, a daddy is just a male in their 20-30’s. Even though it will be awhile before my son feels the

sting of his father’s death, the brokenness of a 2-year-old not knowing the embrace of a father hurts me. I don’t know what that’s like to grow up having never met your father, but I pray God gives me wisdom in guiding my son through it and for him to look to Abba as Father.

God has been faithful to bring me this far through grief and I trust Him to carry us to the finish line. There isn’t a clear way to describe what life after the death of a husband is like, except that the waves of grief come and go and you never know how hard the next wave will hit. Feeling every emotion known to man in one day (or even one hour) is totally normal for a widow. We can’t have control over our grief, but we can have control over how we prepare for the waves, like reading God’s word and talking it through with Him. I don’t know how grief is going to look next year, but for today I will take whatever it is that hurts me to God and trust Him to use it to grow me deeper into Him.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 42:11 ESV

 

 

 

 

Light Their World this Spring and Summer

Oh, what a joyous time it is to watch and experience the birth of Spring! The miracle of life after death is simply glorious. Although the widow may feel encouraged by the warmth and beauty of spring, frost may continue in her grieving heart. As society makes plans for getaways and summer fun with their loved ones, her monotonous routine remains the same–alone. Alone to figure out ways to dust off her home, make repairs, and manage her lawn. Perhaps God would use you to lighten her load by considering meeting one of these practical needs.

1.     Help her with spring cleaning:

  • Service her air conditioner, change the filters, maybe even leave a few extra filters for the months ahead.
  • Give your time to help her clean out a closet. She may be ready to tackle her husband’s possessions, but she may need someone to hold her hand and wipe her tears during the process.
  • Offer to dust ceiling fans and window blinds.

2.     Help her usher in spring:

  • Deliver a spring bouquet just to let her know you are thinking of her.
  • Plant flowers in her yard as a reminder that when her focus is on God, she can bloom where she is planted.
  • Trim her bushes or spread fresh pine straw.
  • Provide consistent lawn care through the warmer months.

3.     Remember her on Mother’s Day!

The job of the widowed-mom is hard and heavy. One out of every four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent, most of which are single moms.

  • Pampering baskets, including gift cards for a manicure, pedicure, or massage, will help her take care of herself.
  • Ice cream and/or restaurant gift cards will provide her and her children with a fun outing.
  • Send notes of appreciation, affirming a job well done!

4.     Include her in your summer outings and plans:

  • Invite her to share a time of fellowship with you. Keep in mind that the widow often feels like the “3rd wheel” when couples gather together. Perhaps you could invite several widows to join you.
  • Consider giving her the keys to your beach or mountain home, trips away can be very healing for the grieving heart.

5.     Provide for a day trip or weekend away

Gift cards for food and gas will help make a simple retreat possible.

6.     Offer transportation

  • Drive her to medical appointments
  • Help with running errands
  • Pick her up for church or a community event

7.     Enlist a trusted handyman for home repairs

Make arrangements to come and conquer her “to-do” list—paint a room, re-arrange furniture, or fix that leaky faucet.

8.     Provide summer fun for her fatherless children.

Loving on her children is a gift to her.  One of the main concerns for the young widow is her children.

  • Summer camps
  • Butterfly gardens for kids, reminding them that life comes after death
  • Day passes – White Water/Aquarium/Movies

9.     Call:

Out of all the widows we surveyed, their greatest ongoing struggle is loneliness. Take time to pick up the phone to let her know she isn’t forgotten.

10. Write:

Widows love a hand-written note just to let them know you care.

11.  Visit:

Give your time away. Be intentional about planning a time to listen to her, keeping in mind that adult conversation may be limited in her new season.

12.  Pray:

Dear God, thank you for showing us that life comes after death. We thank you for Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the grave, so we can experience new life in Christ.  Please remind the precious widow of this truth. May she experience life after her own season of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Please let her feel your Presence as she waits on you in this season.

“They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain.” Job 29:23

 

 

To the Widow’s Friend by Allee Rodenbaugh

The days after John-Michael tragically died were painfully long. I never knew how painful it could be to watch someone walk through such intense grief. Alex had lost her husband, her best friend, all of her future dreams with John-Michael, and the only person who could truly make her laugh and smile on a wretchedly long work day.

I’ve never felt more powerless as a friend. There were so many moments where there was nothing I could do or say to take the pain away. It felt as if the only way this was going to get better was if we woke up one day and realized this all was just a horribly long, bad dream.

When Alex asked me to write this, my first response was an awkward laugh. I failed horribly at this whole “being a best friend to the widow” some of the days, weeks, and months following John-Michael’s death. All I wanted was for her to have joy again and it felt like that would never be possible. I plead constantly with God to provide her reprieve and peace and to restore her joy.

There was one moment when I was ready to throw in the towel on the idea that this God I claimed to follow was still “good.” Alex woke up one night at 4 a.m. because she couldn’t sleep and decided to read her Bible. She softly read 2 Corinthians 4 aloud and when she got to verse 16 the tears started falling… hard.

“For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

I remember being so angry in that moment. “LIGHT?! HOW INSENSITIVE, GOD. Nothing about this is “light,” I thought to myself.

I proceeded to beg God to give me something to say to help her respond to this scripture. I was pleading with him to show up and provide me something that would fix everything she was experiencing in her heart.

Then, Alex, tear-soaked-Bible in hand, looks over at me and says, “If this grief, that is saturating my entire being is considered “light,” then how beautiful will the glory of Christ be.”

I was speechless. Here I was—the friend trying to be a fill-in god that could fix this pain, but God was doing His job, the job that was never mine. Being a sweet, tender, loving Father to her and showing her that even though it feels like all of her world has crumbled, there is purpose, meaning and beauty in this pain that will make Christ’s ever-satisfactory glory completely worth it.

I still get chills thinking about how surreal that moment was. I now have story after story of the Lord’s faithfulness in the months following.

I learned a lot of “hard-way” lessons when it comes to walking with people through grief. But I’ve found three things that are certainly vital to walking through these seasons faithfully:

First, there are times when silence and your presence are all she needs;

for you to sit in the pain with her without trying to give answers or reasons, without changing the subject. She just needs affirmation that the reality of this circumstance is painful, that her heartache is justified, and that this world was not created to be this way.

Even Jesus asked James and John to sit with him in his grief as he sat in anguish before he went to the cross:  “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37

Second, there are times where she needs to be reminded of the gospel;

when her mind is plagued by fear, hurt, and lies or her circumstances have caused her to doubt everything she’s ever believed to be true. Gently remind her of why God is good and point her to eternity.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 it says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope.”

What sets us apart as Christians in grief is that we are able to grieve with hope. The Lord doesn’t ask us to replace our mourning with thanksgiving. Rather, he uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise. The thanks be to him who says our grief will be worth it. The giving of ourselves to say that even if our earthly hopes have been deferred, our eternal hope will never be lost.

Lastly, she needs you to be her cheerleader, not her critic.

Critics come out of the woodworks when tragedy strikes. Everyone has opinions on how a widow should grieve, when it’s okay to talk about it, or when they should pursue another relationship.

Be the friend that helps fight for joy when it starts creeping back in. I know right now it’s impossible to believe when I tell you that the days won’t always seem this heavy. But eventually, there will be a day when it feels like she has started to get her laugh back. Celebrate that alongside her. Find ways to embrace it and create more of it. You will not and cannot bring healing. Only Christ can do that. But life and death are not distinctly separated from one another in the seasons of our lives. Mourning and dancing—they don’t always take turns. While people celebrate engagements, new babies, and the sweetness of life, the fallen world will continue to break our hearts, often times simultaneously. The tension is constantly there, leaving us wondering when to celebrate and when to cry. Often the best thing we can do is recognize the tension and do both, trusting and remembering that when Jesus left this earth, He didn’t leave us alone to discern the timing of our responses. He gave us the Spirit to help navigate these complexities.

The last 2.5 years have not been easy, but I can tell you that mine and Alex’s friendship is one I will forever hold dear to my heart. It has been stretched, challenged, and deepened through this season. We live 1,000+ miles away from each other now, but when we do get time together, it is clear the foundations of our relationship run deep, to the depths of suffering and pain to the joys of life and celebration. Nicholas Wolterstorff said,

“I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that, dry-eyed, I could not see.”

This will be hard and there will be days when you will feel inadequate, insufficient, and like you’re failing. Press on, my friend! Through tears and pain, you will see and know the Lord more intimately and so will your friend. Joy comes in the morning, and it will come through this seemingly unending mourning.

 

Sufferer, Easter is for You

Easter is a holiday you can feel in the air. It comes right when the cold weather has made its final stand. Victory! The sunshine and warmer weather has sent those cold, dark clouds back to where they came from (except for in New York, I don’t know when your warm is coming, but it is, right? Yea, it has to, hold on!) Flowers start to blossom, store fronts change from jackets to swim suits, winter snow scenes to spring bouquets—it’s here. For most this is a season of excitement and anticipation, a celebration of new life both physically and spiritually. But for the sufferer, it’s yet another season where the absence of our loved one is felt deep within. Another holiday that we ache to celebrate the joy of life with ALL of our family. Even though I am happily remarried to an amazing man, this holiday hits me especially hard each year. My late husband John-Michael loved Easter. He sang on Easter morning like he had won the Mega Millions, because in light of the cross, he knew he had won. Oh, how I long for the day when I can sing with him again of the triumph of Easter. Don’t you, my suffering friend? How badly do you want to sing knowing that all the bad has been wiped away and that full restoration has finally come? I want it so bad, but here we are, stuck in the middle. Somewhere between the Easter baskets and egg hunts, Lent devotionals, and church celebrations, we’re tired and don’t yet fully feel the triumph of Easter. The winter may have passed, but the final frost on our soul hasn’t seemed to melt quite yet.

Widow, sufferer, Easter is for you. I know it because the coming of the first Easter must have felt a lot the same for the disciples. They had left everything to follow Jesus. They planted all their stakes and dreams in him. They believed that their season of long suffering would lead to a triumphant victory here on Earth. They didn’t expect the cross, they didn’t expect death. They were certain that he was going to break down the temple and rebuild it, in front of their very eyes. Their idea of restoration looked so much different than what God had in mind. Even when told by Jesus that he would die and rise again (Matthew 20:17-19), they didn’t understand, thinking that they wouldn’t suffer quite that much, and surely neither would the Son of God. But as Good Friday hit, they were stunned. Jesus died. All their dreams and plans were destroyed. The death of Jesus shook the disciples so much that they locked themselves in a home for fear that everything they believed could have been wrong (John 20:19). They had no idea what to do next, this wasn’t the life they thought they signed up for. We can say that again, this wasn’t the life we thought we signed up for.

Like the disciples, we cannot comprehend the full meaning of the suffering we are going through. I too have sat in the quiet of my home thinking, sometimes screaming, “WHAT am I going to do next?!” I cannot give you a concrete answer as to why my beloved, funny, young, full-of-life, late husband is not with me to celebrate Easter this year. Even with warnings in scripture that promise suffering here on Earth, I couldn’t have fathomed the heartache that could come from it. But, hold on, it’s what happened next in the disciple’s lives that changed the story for them and changed the story for you and me—completely, forever! All the sufferers, and honestly, all the Earth, hinges on what happened next. At the moment of complete darkness, complete chaos, and complete hopelessness, enters our Savior…

“PEACE TO YOU!” Luke 24:36

Jesus was alive. Jesus rose from the dead. JESUS CONQUERED DEATH. And what are his first words to them? Peace. My dear friends, peace. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see…” Luke 24:38-39. It was him. Can you imagine the relief they must have felt? Death was no longer the final answer. There was someone greater, and he faced the curse of death and conquered it for us. This was a triumphant victory.

It is just like Jesus to meet us with hope and promise in the midst of confusion.

“Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.” (Nicholas Wolterstorff)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

This Easter, the promise of the resurrection is for you. The cross declares that Jesus has tasted death for you so that it doesn’t have to be the final word for you, for your kids, or for your life. In the place of havoc Jesus has offered peace. No matter what this broken world throws at you, no matter the plots Satan has to destroy, take heart, Jesus has overcome them all. You may not be singing with flowers in your hair, you may very well be in the stillness of your home, holding onto that last shred of hope that victory is coming. It is. It has. You can’t see fully right now what restoration will look like, but in Christ you will. In Christ your hope is as rock solid as the defeat of winter and the restoration of spring.

 

Rest isn’t Another “To-Do”

The alarm still goes off around 5:45 a.m.  I learned early on that the first fifteen minutes after this sound are the hardest, so daily I jump out of bed and into the shower rubbing off sleep forcing myself into another new day. With make-up applied and wet hair wrapped in a towel, I walk through routines that have become the non-negotiables of my life for years.

Darkness invaded my life as a storm when I was widowed at the age of 38 with eight children under the age of ten.  There were diapers to change, people to feed, education that must continue, business to tend to, questions inside and out, problems to solve, grieving little ones and, not to mention, a very sad mommy.  Numb physically and emotionally, deep inside I knew I could not allow myself to grow numb spiritually.  Have you ever been there? Are you there right now?  It’s in those moments, we need God more than ever before. For me, chaos threatened order every single minute of the day, except for the protected time set aside to spend with the Lord. Only God knew clearly what was happening with my life in this season. He was the potter, I was just clay.

“But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

As soft clay easily takes on the imprint of an object pressed into it, our hearts are similar in receiving impressions. Because of this, we must protect our hearts against the temptation to take on the impression of the world, especially in our grief and chaos. In my desperation, time had to be guarded to seek God.  Wet hair?  Oh yes, because my children knew that the day didn’t start until they heard the whir of the blow dryer.

So what does it look like to find rest in this storm? For me, rest comes through routine. Not regimented rules and regulations led by the drill sergeant of the heavenlies, but spiritual disciplines or habits that allow for me to experience God’s filling of grace (His divine inspiration upon the heart and its reflection in life).

Three admonitions stuck with me through the busy years of raising children and now in the season of leading a ministry. It is my hope that these disciplines won’t be another “to-do” on your list, but rather you will find that seeking time-out prevents burn-out adding vibrancy and meaning to your life. I pray that one day you will be able to look back, like I do, and see how these grace-filled habits are still shaping you each day.

Disciplines of a grace-filled widow:

Let grief simplify not complicate your life:

1.      Divert Daily

A.   Morning quiet time:  Make the Bible your first read.  The Word of God speaks, and there is no replacement for the Bible.  Avoid the temptation to read words of men before the Word of God.

“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace…” Isaiah 55:11-12

Suggested resources: One Year Bible, Audio Bible app, or a Bible Verse for the day. Do not go numb spiritually. God’s Word will not return void.

B.    Prayer: Cry out to God. Talk to God before you talk to others.

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” Jeremiah 33:3

  • Pray for and with your children by name every single day.  If you don’t, who will? “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry…” Exodus 22:22
  •  Listen for God to speak. Give yourself the gift of a few minutes in silence after reading and praying. Allow for the still, small voice of God to be heard in your heart.

C.   Routine: Develop a schedule for babies and toddlers.  Routine brings security. Maintain a reasonable schedule of pace and rest for yourself knowing your limitations.  Less is best in the first two years. When the load is heavy, consider two questions that have helped me to navigate my way when my next step was unclear:

  1. What brings you the greatest joy?
  2. What gives an atmosphere of peace? Peace is the umpire of God. If we do not have peace in a decisions or direction we are headed that should be our red flag of caution to re-think our path. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Colossians 3:15

2.      Withdraw Weekly

A.  Sabbath Rest: Make time to do something you enjoy as a gift to yourself. Turn off the world.

B.  Sunday Worship: Find community in the house of God with believers in Jesus Christ. We were created for relationships. We need to surround ourselves with others for support and accountability.

3.      Abandon Annually

A.  Retreat: Once a year alone. From the start many people suggested that I get away, but to take off alone . . . really alone was a scary thought to me.  After a few years and on the verge of parental burn-out, I finally asked my parents if they would trade houses with me.  They willingly agreed to come to my home for one week each summer to care for my children, while I spent time at their home away from the routine. This was a great gift. I relished in the time to sleep, stare, study, shop or just be.

B.  Vacation: Once a year with family.  This doesn’t have to be a luxury experience, just intentional time away with your children

Rather than allowing life to shape your disciplines, let disciplines shape your life.

Make them your own, get alone with God,

you won’t regret the rest that is found there.

 

Her Story – Emily Hill

As a young high school girl, I began to grow a seemingly irrational fear. As irrational as the fear would have sounded to others, it was unquestionably real to me. My fear was of becoming a widow, specifically a young one. I had even vowed to myself to never, ever marry a man in the military, since a military man would only increase my chances of being a young widow. A couple years passed with this fear still lingering in the back of my head. Surprisingly, I ended up getting married while still in my teens to a boy named Michael who would join the military soon after we wed. (Never say never, right?) I loved him enough to accept that was what he wanted to do, and even though it scared me a little, I was his wife so I supported him.

Eventually it was official, Michael joined the military and not too long after we were living in Germany. So many amazing changes in such a short amount of time, and even more were yet to come. A little over a year of being married, we found out I was pregnant. We were both so excited and immediately began to mentally prepare for the big shift soon to come for our tiny family. Our life was good, in a completely normal everyday life kind of way. He loved his job, we had awesome friends, we lived in a beautiful village, we had a precious, little dog and a baby on the way. It was all so normal, and then suddenly one day everything was not normal at all.

It was a typical Friday morning for us. We got up about 5:00am, we had breakfast, talked about plans for my birthday, shared lots of laughter, and then Michael left for work after he prayed over us. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see him. I was nearly four months pregnant at the time, so I went back to sleep for another hour to get some extra rest. I woke up to a knock on the door, and when I realized I didn’t notice the car, I began to feel a little uneasy. I texted Michael letting him know about it, but I never received a response. Finally, my phone went off, it was my neighbor and friend to Michael and I, telling me someone stopped by saying that Michael hadn’t shown up for work. In the military, you don’t just not show up for work.

I ran down the stairs and out the front door still in my pajamas and a robe and knocked on my friends’ door, trying to learn as much detail as I could, but we were all clueless at that point. My friends and I spent hours searching for Michael, calling hospitals within a two-hour radius, and the language barrier only prolonged the process. These hours felt like days. That afternoon, I finally got word that Michael had been in a car wreck. I prayed and prayed for God to save my husband, to just let him live. God had answered that prayer, just not in the way I was asking.

I heard a car pull up outside, and I made my way out the door. I saw four men with somber faces and dress blue attire step out of the car. My stomach turned in disbelief and the only thing I remember saying was a very solemn, “No.” I had seen all the movies, but this was my life, not a movie, so it just couldn’t be real. But it was real, my biggest fear was really happening. We all walked inside, I was asked to sit down, and one of the four men proceeded to tell me Michael had died in the car wreck earlier that morning. I slumped into my dear friend’s arms, and I wept—and I wept hard. I had spent hours trying to cling to the idea that he lived through the wreck and was being taken care of in a hospital somewhere, but it just wasn’t so. I was three days shy of twenty years old and pregnant with our first child; this was not how I imagined my life to be. Eventually, I sat up again, and I looked down into the palms of my hands which had written on them, “For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” And I spoke, “God is good,” reminding myself that God went before me, and it was not a surprise to Him. With that, I began my undesired journey of widowhood.

What was once just a seemingly irrational fear, is now my reality. I’m a young widow and a single mom to a precious little boy, and you know what? It’s okay. The road certainly wasn’t painless, but God has used it all to grow me deeper into Him.

God allowed me to enter into my biggest fear so that I could experience just how much bigger He is.

When I first began to fear widowhood in high school, I hadn’t yet entered into a relationship with Jesus. I know for a fact that I would not have the hope and peace that I have today if I didn’t have Jesus to walk me through this. He is our only hope.

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you. And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”                                                                                                                                                            –2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 (NKJV)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

To the Widow’s Mother-in-law by Alex Kondratev

Dear Mom (in-law),

We have both lost someone that is irreplaceable in our lives. You a son, the one you carried in your womb for nine months, the one you brought into this world, the baby you held in your arms, had inside jokes with, the one who called you mommy and counted on you for so many years. The one you raised into the man I love—he is who I love in many ways because of you. And me a husband, the one I built a life with and shaped my world around, the one who held my hand in all the joys and sorrows of life, the man that I vowed my all to, to become one with. Our grief is so deep because this man was a part of us and now he is gone. We grieve many of the same things—his laugh, his hugs, his jokes and his talents, but in the same breath, our grief is vastly different. I know we both feel that lonely chasm deep within our bones.

In the days of living out this unexpected plan of God, I won’t always love you the way your son had a way of loving you, after all I’m not him. And I know you won’t always be able to love me in the ways he loved me, after all you’re not him. But, I do believe that we have enough of that man pulsing through our veins to be there for one another in a way that no one else can.

Mom, there is no light way to put this, we will face hard days, months and years ahead. We will each have to make decisions that we never thought we would have to make. Decisions that will impact us and change us, and for better, and sometimes worse, we won’t look the same as we used to. Tears will often take the place of laughter in our homes and family dinners will feel almost impossible. So here we are, at a fork in the road. We can hug each other and part ways with tears in our eyes leaving each to our own grief battle or like Naomi and Ruth, when faced with the death blow of son and husband, we can take the much harder road that leads to seeing beauty that comes only from winning battles of love, trust, and service.

Today, let’s choose to take the harder path, we will probably have to choose that tomorrow…and the next day too, but I believe God will honor it.  Promises will be hard to keep while God is putting our lives back together, so I present these needs and resolutions to you. Please know, my resolutions to you are not exhaustive and are not conditional on you meeting my needs. When you and I fail to meet these needs and fulfill these resolutions, because we inevitably will, the promise of grace will always stand.

I need…

  • Your prayers.
  • Remind me that the Gospel is true—even now, even in the pain.
  • Open communication—the opportunity to admit that something you have done has hurt me.
  • Space to grieve— If I don’t call or text back it doesn’t mean I don’t care.
  • Respect—I’ve got so many decisions to make for myself (and my kids), please respect me as head, like you would have for your son leading our relationship/family.
  • Connection—be present with me (and your grandkids).
  • Acceptance—If God brings the opportunity for love again, please don’t check out of my life.
  • Love—I’m your family forever.

I resolve…

  • To pray for you.
  • To remind you that the Gospel is true—even now, even in the pain.
  • To remember and celebrate my late husband, your son, and to remember that this will look different for each of us.
  • To give the benefit of the doubt—I trust that the things you do that have hurt me aren’t done specifically to hurt me, but because you are grieving.
  • To be humble—if I’ve hurt you, I want to apologize.
  • To connect—You’ve already lost a son, don’t worry, you won’t lose me (or my kids).
  • To be patient and then patient again.
  • To be considerate—of your grief, of how I choose to honor my late husband, of how I choose to move forward, of what I post on social media.
  • To be transparent—if God brings the opportunity for love again, I’ll tell you and be gentle in doing so.
  • To talk it out—for all the things that come our way (grief differences, family celebrations, anniversaries, new relationships…) let’s talk it out.
  • To love you—you’re my family forever.

Mom, I endeavor to honor these resolutions because I want to honor you, but more than that, I want to honor and trust God. In Ruth 2:10-12, Ruth received a blessing from Boaz, but also from God himself. She received this blessing because of all she had done for her mother-in-law, but that wasn’t all, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” She received this blessing because she entrusted herself to the Lord when all around her was foreign and uncertain. She believed that God had a plan for her relationships and her life. There is so much purpose in our relationship, Mom. I, like Ruth, choose to believe that this mysterious road called grief will be better walked by your side than alone.

Love,

Your Daughter (in-law)

How to Handle Loneliness

Another tragedy saturates the pages of our news feed causing us to gasp, mourn, wonder and question, “What’s this world coming to?”  Many people share their answers to this question with gun control leading the polls in the solution to the depravity of the human heart.  While school massacres might not have taken place in ancient days the root of the problem remains, we need Jesus.  We desperately need Jesus to give us new hearts.

One article sub-titled, “How one school teacher took time to look out for the lonely,” caught my attention as I was working on this blog addressing the topic of loneliness.  Weekly, a 5th grade teacher took requests from her students for seating in her classroom for the upcoming week.  By secret vote, she also asked for nominations of the most exceptional classroom citizen. She wasn’t trying to create a new seating chart or highlight the student of the week, but rather to discover the lonely children in her class.  The article shared how the slips of paper with information submitted by the students uncovered patterns that would highlight the lonely children and those struggling to connect with others.  “Who is going unnoticed in the social life of the class? Who is being bullied and by whom? Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who can’t think of anyone to 
request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who had a million friends last week and none this week?” Apparently, this teacher experienced the heartbreak of Columbine and determined that “all violence begins with disconnection. All outward violence begins as inner loneliness.”  https://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/stop-bullying-strategy/

God created us to need community or companionship.  In fact, His response after creating Adam was that it was not good for him to be alone, so He created a helpmate suitable. We were made for relationships. There are times in life where we are alone, yet we don’t feel lonely, and then there are other times where we may experience loneliness even in a crowded environment.  What makes the difference?  The emotional response to our circumstances.

Rick Warren shares four causes of loneliness:

  1. Transitions – when change brings about a loss which brings on a twinge of loneliness: 1st day of school, graduation, a new job, fired or laid off from a job. Life is a series of transitions.
  2. Separations – when we are isolated from those we love.  During travel, illness, or death.
  3. Oppositions – when under attack by others you fall prey to loneliness.
  4. Rejection – when you feel that you have been betrayed or forsaken.

As widows we are now alone in many ways:  physically, socially, emotionally. There is no longer a warm body by our side or a cheerleader in the stands.   Over time, our community changes or disappears causing even the most independent person to experience feeling alone as never before.  You may be alone in raising children, alone as the breadwinner, alone in making decisions, and living alone, but you are not completely alone.  God promises in Hebrews 13:5:

“I will never leave or forsake you.”

Danger comes when the normal, uncomfortable emotion of loneliness becomes negative or bitter as it attaches itself to our situation causing on-going pain in being alone.  It is common to feel lonely and sad without the companionship of your husband. However, Elisabeth Elliot who experienced widowhood twice offers this challenge,

“When you find yourself alone, there is potential to be lonely unless you have an awareness of being a part of something grander and greater than yourself.”  She goes on to confirm that being in God’s arms does not exclude suffering.  “We must trust that even our suffering is under God’s control.  In fact, love revealed on the cross does not exclude but must include suffering.”

Loneliness is real, and it hurts. Suffering is a wilderness experience–that’s the purpose. In your walk through this valley there are practical lessons to be learned one of which might be to consider how to handle loneliness.  We cannot do anything about our suffering in the season of loneliness, but there is something we can do with it…

How to Handle Loneliness

  1. Accept it as a gift from the Lord – this time of solitude may only be for a season.  We don’t know the purpose for the pain but give purpose in this season. Get to know the Lord in ways you never could or thought possible. “Peace comes not through the removal of the pain, but in the acceptance of it.” (Elisabeth Elliot)
  2. Embrace it as a gift to yourself – There are things you can do alone that you cannot do with others.  In marriage, you were created to be a helpmate suitable to your husband.  When this responsibility is removed, enjoy a season of spending time doing what you could not do easily when your husband was by your side:  read, write, sleep, spend time with others, or spend time getting to know the Lord in a way you have never experienced before.
  3. Give it away as a gift to others – reframe your lonely days and re-direct your focus.  Don’t spend time thinking of your aloneness.  Look for ways to give your time away.  If you are a busy widowed-mom, invest in your children.  Enjoy being the one to make decisions with your children and lead them well.  Encourage another single mom or the elderly. The widow with the last coin gave her all away. The widow with the last oil surrendered in obedience to the Lord.  Yes, her only son died in the process, but she witnessed his resurrection from the dead in the end. (1 Kings 17)

“Now she who is a widow indeed, and who has been left alone has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day.” 1 Timothy 5:5

“A Father of the fatherless, a defender of the widows. God makes a home for the lonely . . . only the stubborn and rebellious dwell in a parched land.” Psalm 68:6

Perspective makes a difference in your loneliness: Alone = physical status vs lonely = our mindset.  God’s word teaches that He makes a home—a shelter—for the lonely, and only the stubborn and rebellious live in a parched land.  You don’t have to be alone in your loneliness.  Choose today to come into His shelter for the lonely.

Giving and Receiving Love on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day – hearts, hugs and kisses, roses and chocolate!  Romance is in the air, or at least it is advertised to be that way. This can be a very tender time for many even for married ladies.  Expectations soar causing emotions to sink when they go unmet. The stage is set for disappointment, and the enemy will try to take you down if you are not aware of his schemes. I will never be able to meet the deepest need in others and they will never ever be able to do the same for me.  Ladies, directing your focus to the One, The Lord Jesus, who is the only One who can satisfy your deepest need and always satisfies is the best way to make it through this day.  In doing so, you will be able to lay your head on the pillow tonight saying it was a Happy Valentine’s Day.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

God designed the heart to be the most unselfish organ in the body beating 42,000,000 times a day!  It pumps tirelessly to supply all the other organs.  Without it, there is no life.  It is no wonder God called us to love Him with all our heart.  How wonderful it is to know that He heals the broken hearted and those crushed in spirit. Psalm 147:3.  You may be in a place where you don’t understand or even like God’s plan for you.  Life is out of control, and the pain is intense.  May I challenge you to work hard to place your trust in Him.  As you rest in His beautiful plan, take time to give love away today.  Be watchful as you walk through the day for the ways God is showing His love to you.  He is there . . . always there.

Suggestions for celebrating love on Valentine’s Day:

  • Focus your thoughts on showing love to others.  Give love away in practical ways:  surprise a lonely friend with a call or text or bless a stranger by picking up their bill at the grocery store.
  • Find couples who are glorifying Christ in their marriage and celebrate their love with them.  They are a picture to the world of Jesus and His bride. This is good.
  • Conquer the temptation to isolate in sorrow.  For years we were intentional about sharing Valentine’s Day with others.  Progressive dinners became our tradition inviting couples to host a portion of the meal in their home.  Each couple was asked to share their “love story.”  This proved to be a positive experience in that it gave my children encouraging stories of what God instituted – the love between a husband and wife.  Just because marriage is no longer your story (at the present time), it doesn’t mean your children can’t look to others for that important modeling. Be deliberate about putting on display before them what may be absent in your home.

Jean’s story –

I was 46 years old when my husband died. Both of my children were enrolled in universities and were supportive and loving in every way. I was very aware that life had changed for me; however, I never went through the deep grieving, fear and uncertainty that I’m sure young widows with children to be raised and supported endure.

Two things set my future course for me:  To begin with, my perspective on how I approached life and secondly was an intimate conversation I had with the Lord when the chaos settled and the numbness began to wear off. I was all alone in the house with the realization that nobody would share my dinner table with me. Suddenly I felt very alone. This was it! I cried out with honest questions before the Lord while laying on my living room couch, “What is to become of me?  What am I to do?  I’m turning my face to the wall, even as Hezekiah did.  I’m consulting no one or no thing or no emotion but only You.  What is to become of me?  What am I to do?”

I literally turned my face to the wall and began to pray.  When I had finished, I knew in that time of prayer the Lord had outlined my future and even though I didn’t cognitively know what it was, my entire being was settled and at absolute peace. This was God’s grace and love towards me.

Moving forward, I began to live the days that were before me.  I struggled with issues of my flesh — wanting intimacy and companionship that I knew was now closed to me without my husband — but in total honesty, I never once thought about Valentine’s Day as being a loss or pain to me.  I never once thought about what I was missing because I didn’t feel like I was missing it. My focus was on the Lord and what He had in store for me in my new season. He has been faithful to me in every way over the last thirty years.  My Savior has filled the void of my husband in ways beyond comprehension from the beginning of the season of widowhood until today.

Sweet friend – my prayer is for you to experience this same satisfaction as you trust in God’s love for you.  Only God knows tomorrow, but for today may you press into Jesus in your pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Valentine’s Day Tradition by Brittany Price Brooker 

One of my favorite memories with my late husband Patrick was our first Valentine’s Day together. We decided that instead of spending the day all about us, we would create a tradition to spend Valentine’s Day on others. We prayed about what to do and decided we would love on the widows, orphans, and the hurting. We called our church and were given some names of some precious widows, a foster child, a lonely older lady who lived by herself, and an older couple where the husband was caring for his ailing wife. We mapped out the whole night, called to make appointments in advance, and on Valentine’s day, we shopped for beautiful flowers, cards, and some yummy treats and headed out. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with each person as they shared their heart, opened their goodies, and we prayed with them. It was so much fun! We met some amazing people that our paths never would have crossed unless we had purposed to reach out.

Another year, we were able to reach out to and love on some older widows, some divorcees, and some single ladies who were still waiting for “the one” the Lord had for them. Our desire was to create this family tradition to teach our children to be sensitive of those who are hurting around us or just need some encouragement.

Somehow, when my husband passed away, several people found out about our Valentine’s Day tradition. How encouraging to hear that other families have decided to start this tradition with their families as a way to teach their children how to refocus Valentine’s day. What an amazing gift!

We have personally been the recipients of the hands and feet of Jesus these past couple years, and we are ever so grateful for the healing it has provided to our hearts. Below are some ideas of intentional blessings that we have used on Valentine’s Day and others have comforted our family with over the years.

  • Deliver a coffee to a single friend with a sweet note of encouragement and love.
  • Take flowers to someone to brighten their day along with a sweet verse & note.
  • Bring a meal to a family that is hurting.
  • Drop off some special treats to a family who recently had a divorce (snacks, breakfast food, muffins, toys, etc…).
  • Buy a gift or a meaningful book for someone that could use encouragement and deliver it with a sweet note.
  • Make homemade cards with affirmation from scripture that expresses the love that God lavishes on us and make a list of God’s promises.
  • Drop off a gift card to a family who is hurting financially and encourage them to take a night off of the stress and take time to invest in their marriage.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to lead and guide you to what you are supposed to do. The Holy Spirit is our helper in all things and will show you what the most meaningful thing will be.

Remember, this is truly how the Lord uses the body of Christ–to be the hands and feet of Jesus to demonstrate His amazing love in tangible ways!

Perspective Ministries will be delivering blankets to new widows for Valentine’s Day as a reminder of God’s covering.  If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to help, please contact lori@perspectiveministries.org.  If you would like to bless a new widow on Valentine’s Day for only $10, donate now.

12 Practical Ways To Meet the Needs of the Widow this Winter

The cold days and long, dark nights that are characteristic in the winter leave the widow feeling like the winter of her soul may never end.  We have all had seasons like this, when the biting cold outside matches the biting hurt we feel on the inside. Without the comfort and love of her husband, the winter months have way of intensifying the loneliness and grief the widow feels. Thankfully, God gives snow in the winter as a beautiful picture of His grace, and before we know it, the snow melts away reminding us that there is life after death. We invite you to be another picture of grace for the widow and fatherless this winter season. This list of practical ideas, compiled by widows, will help you bring light into otherwise dark places. For all you will do, we thank you!

1.      Winterize her home:

  • Service her heating system and change air filters.
  • Check batteries in smoke detectors and fire alarms.
  • Bring firewood
  • Trim tree limbs that could be hazardous in a storm
  • Provide flashlights and candles in case of power outages
  • Change lightbulbs inside and out

2.      Help her prepare for the year ahead:

  • Financial planning
  • Tax preparation

3.      Give your time to preserve her memories:

  • Offer an evening or weekend to help her sort through pictures—having someone to share these special moments with is a blessing.
  • Take time to write out a specific memory of her loved one, and deliver it to her.

4.      Thoughtful ideas:

  • Buy her warm and cozy things:
    • Winter gloves / scarf / warm socks / blanket—something to snuggle up to on the chilly nights
    • Candles—these always have a way of making the holidays warmer and brighter, especially on the cold and dreary days.
  • Fill her pantry with love:
    • Tea, hot chocolate and coffee are always a safe bet.
    • Stock her freezer with casseroles and soups.

5.      Give her a good book:

“Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.” – Mason Cooley

6.      Send gift cards: food and gas are always needed

7.      Care for her fatherless children

  • Babysit her kids or come with an activity to share with her and her children

8.      Provide help with medical attention, if needed

9.      Call:

  • Be available if weather isolates – make sure she is okay.

10.  Write:

  • After the rush of the holidays, it’s easy for loneliness to set in—send a card letting her know you are thinking of her. Hand-written notes may be her greatest friend.

11.  Visit:

  • Invite her to join you at the movies, for dinner, or take her to run errands.

12.  Pray:

  • Dear God, please show the warmth of your love to this precious widow during the winter months.  Thank you that you promise to be her covering.  May she experience your protection in the storm and provision from the cold. As she faces the year ahead, remind her that your plans are good, you are with her, and you will help her. Amen.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10