Grieving Sex

In widowhood, envy is a huge enemy to healing. I remember in the early years of losing my husband looking around at all the married couples in my woe is me funk wondering why they got to be married, enjoying endless physical intimacy, and I didn’t.

Sexual bereavement is grieving the loss of sexual intimacy with your husband. This loss is not something that is openly shared or even recognized by most but is real. We are created as sexual beings. Sex is a gift of God to the married couple. Whether it be the quick kiss before he heads off to work, the long embrace after a long day, or the sex that unites the two, the death of your husband brings with it the death of your sex life, as well. For some, this sexual death is welcomed because that area of their marriage was abusive, painful, or non-existent. However, for many, experiencing this loss is devastating.

Matt Chandler describes the act of sex as a “mingling of souls.”  To be physically, intimately, and deeply together with another person. You may not have thought of it in this way, but sex is emotional and spiritual as much as it is physical, which is why God gives clear guidelines for the handling of it.

Upon the death of a husband, every new widow is forced to ask, “How do I unmingle my soul from my husband?” For many, even myself, this was a terrifying question to ask. How do we transfer all delight, emotion, and physical dependence not onto another man but God himself?

In marriage sex becomes so natural; we get to know ourselves and our husband in ways that only we share. So it’s not surprising that there is no easy switch off after their passing, but yet the switch must be made. If we refuse to recognize our loss, especially in the area of sex, it will be easy for us to try to meet those needs in another man—which we all know in the back of our minds is only a fake and temporary fix. The switch is at its core a physical one, yes, but the deactivation and transfer of trust has to be in your mind. So how do we fuel our mind to accept our new circumstances and how do we protect ourselves from our unmet physical desires as we “un-mingle?”

The most important thing in any circumstance that we find ourselves in is to know what the Word of God says. God has given us His Word so that we may be encouraged and equipped for literally anything we come across, grieving sex and transitioning back to a sexless and single life (hard but true) is no different.

After losing my husband it was hard for me to accept being single again, I had been married for years, had more kids than I could count on one hand, and I felt too “mature” to be single again. But as I opened God’s Word, I was surprised to see that God presented singleness positively. Paul, the great man of faith that he was, was single and content. He was not lacking any maturity because of his singleness. He even went so far to say that he wished others were single like he was. His relationship status didn’t define is relationship with God.

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I… But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 32–35

Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.” – 1 Timothy 5:14-15

God has given us relationships to satisfy our desire for emotional and physical intimacy. Paul says, yes, go ahead, remarry just don’t do it for the status change. And don’t rush it. Remain in the time of singleness and see where the Lord calls you, be devoted to God in both body and spirit. I love the way John Piper says it,

“Singleness has been a noble and courageous path for ministry ever since Jesus and the Apostle Paul chose it “because of the kingdom of heaven.” It is no sign of weakness to want to be married. It is normal, and it is good. The courage comes when you sense God calling you to singleness (for this chapter of your life) and you accept the call with zeal and creative planning for His glory.”

As you remain in this time of singleness/“unmarriedness,” it is important to set wise physical boundaries. Sex has been so biblically normal, and even encouraged, with your husband, but the Bible is clear, sex outside of marriage is wrong. Hebrews 13:4 gives us a chilling warning, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” And again in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God…”

God knows what a special and unique gift sex is. He doesn’t set up boundaries to harm you, but to protect you from following a strong desire into sin, especially in the lonely days after losing your person. Boundaries are important because you know when you are crossing the line. Write these down and live by them, invite accountability into your life, and allow God to lead you.

These are boundaries I still follow to this day. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a man. If you feel a pull towards a man who is off-limits (married), run.  If you feel a pull towards sex outside of marriage, run. Conversations must stay pure. Avoid chatrooms where mingling will lead to destruction.

Oh yes, men will come along that you will be attracted to. Perhaps he reminds you of your husband or appears even better. Be careful not to confuse love with lust (yes even for women) – lust is wanting something you don’t or cannot have.

Being aware of yourself is another thing I found helpful during my early single years, and even still now. I was young, I had children, and my hormones were raging. I am sure you feel the same. When we are in those child-bearing years, grief may be heightened at that “special time of month.” Don’t settle emotionally or physically. For this season, sex is off limits.  This doesn’t mean it will never be again. This was a verse I used to quote to myself,

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Romans 13:14

Then there’s the things we can torture ourselves with, the movies, the romance novels, the flashbacks of our intimacy with our late husband, or the lingerie that used to make us feel so pretty. To all that I say beware. While this may feel good in the moment, mustering up the feelings for sex will only make life without your partner more difficult.

The temptations are all around. Just as one fasting from chocolate must remove all signs and smells of it from their home, you must do the same. While many enjoy watching Hallmark movies, these may not be a positive way to spend your time. Even though there is beauty in these wholesome romances, they may cause your heart to long for what it cannot have right now. When these lonely moments come creeping in, thank God that He allowed you to experience the gift of physical intimacy and then set your mind on other things. Discard old lingerie and enjoy wearing comfortable flannel loungewear for now.

Above all, trust God in this season of your life. He knows exactly what you need when you need it. When we focus on something we cannot have, we will be miserable. If we long for what is not, we will rob ourselves of what is today, singleness as a gift of God for this season. As hard as that is to grasp sometimes, I have seen God be faithful to me over the last 19 years. It isn’t always easy living without a husband, while women around are happy and in love, but God always hears my cries. He became my husband and provided for me every step of the way. He will for you, too, no doubt!

I’ll end with another great line from John Piper,

Why must I live my life alone? I do not know. But Jesus Christ is Lord of my life. I believe in the sovereignty of God, and I accept my singleness from his hand. He could have ordered my life otherwise, but he has not chosen to do so. As his child, I must trust his love and wisdom.”

 

 

When Suffering is All You Have to Offer

Mark 12:41-44:                                                                                                                                                           “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

“A poor widow.” Gosh, doesn’t life feel like that sometimes. Half the person we needed to be for our family, friends, and coworkers and empty handed. Sometimes our emotional or physical poverty cuts so deep that we feel no possible sense of recovery, stripped to the core. In those moments our human response is to give up. Sometimes we even feel like it’s the only logical response.

There’s a beautiful secret in this piece of scripture for those who are not only widows, like myself, but for those who are spent, worn out, and suffering. There is respite and reward for those who dare to walk up to the offering plate with ripped jeans and nothing left in their pockets to offer but who are determined to give “all they have to live on.”

That was my life story 2 years ago. The tragic death of my husband of 14 months left me deep within the valley of the shadow of death. I was the poor widow, and I didn’t want to be. I wanted to walk up to the offering box of life to offer my large sums, proving that life was going well, that my dreams were still intact, and that I still had some amount of control on things. My reality was vastly different. I ate, slept, and breathed grief, “all I had to live on.”

I don’t know what your suffering looks like today. Do you just want your old life back? Is your kid’s grief breaking your heart? Are your hopes for finding your “dream job” waning as you spend yet another day at your cubicle? Are you having a hard time believing truth as you continue to fight that long lasting sin? Is death knocking at your door or that of a friend or family members?

Have you stared the brokenness of this world in the eyes recently and felt it’s sting?

Here’s the secret we see hidden in plain sight in Mark 12, your brokenness is a gift, reminding you and others that it’s not wealth, health, or prosperity that give you hope, it’s Christ. It’s a humble reliance on a God that says you can trust me with all you have, even to the point where it hurts, even when it looks like a mess of broken dreams. Two and a half years ago, all I had was a dead husband, no answers, and loneliness, but still God was calling me to come to the offering box. What I found when I went was not a God who mocked my “nothingness,” instead, as I lifted up my hands I heard, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…for when you are weak, then you are strong.”

When we are weak, God calls us to come, so that he can be strong. Look at the scripture, of all the people coming to offer their sums, Jesus highlights the small gift of the widow. No amount of money that the widow offered was going to make her gift more substantial to God—he didn’t need that. Jesus honored the small gift not because it was large in size but large in substance. Surrender is the lesson of the offering box.

There is always something to give back to God, even when our gift looks and feels like nothing. What is God calling you to drop on the offering box today? He is calling you to put it all in, everything you have to live on, tears included. He will be faithful.

The Realities of Suicide Go Beyond Mental Health By Mo Isom

I remember the feeling constantly haunting me.

I was certain I was going to die young.

I was certain I would never get to experience marriage or pregnancy or motherhood or any of life’s monumental joys that had always filled my dreams.

Not only was I sure I would die young, but I was relatively certain I would be the one to take my own life.

Since the moment I had stared at my dad’s body on a morgue table with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest, a spirit of death had come upon me and, from that point forward, consistently sold me vicious lies that were packaged to look and sound like inevitable truths.

I was a Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-filled, ministry-leading young woman who was regularly plagued by thoughts of suicide and inescapable feelings of oppression and death. Not because it was anything I desired, but because my soul was the battleground for a very real and tangible degree of spiritual affliction that I was completely ill-equipped to recognize and fight at that point in my faith journey.

Nobody had ever talked to me about true spiritual warfare. Nobody had spoken up about the reality of unclean spirits and the doors we often leave open for the enemy to maintain jurisdiction in various areas of our hearts and lives.

I didn’t grow up in a denomination of the faith that taught much about deliverance, so I assumed it was my responsibility to do my best to cope.

To cope with the feelings of oppression I just couldn’t quite shake.

To simply cope and focus on my desire for happiness.

When I opened the Holy Word of God I frequently read of Jesus casting out demons and the power of God to break the chains of bondage to unclean spirits in our lives, but nobody around me was talking about how I could practically be set free of my own struggles. So I assumed I was supposed to quietly find balance between both—faith in Jesus, balanced with the need to somehow keep my restless and anxious thoughts in check.

But Jesus didn’t take the cross and rise from the grave, conquering sin and death—overthrowing darkness and bringing a new administration of mercy and grace—in order for us to cope. Jesus came to set the captives FREE. To deliver us from evil and to give us the Holy Spirit as our guide and our helper so we can move through this fallen, oppressed world reigned by an enemy who is slick and deceiving (2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31), with great authority, power and victory over the dark spirits that delight in our self-destruction.

You see, in John 10:10 Jesus said,

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that they may have LIFE, and have LIFE in all its fullness.”

Jesus was never apprehensive about addressing the realities of spiritual warfare and the prevalence of unclean spirits. He came to make us aware of who our true enemy is (Ephesians 6:12), and to equip us to recognize the schemes of darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11).

It’s why one of the very first things Jesus did when He began His ministry was cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1:25-28). It’s why one of the first instructions Jesus gave the disciples when He sent them out was to cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2). It’s why, in Jesus’ final message before ascending to Heaven, He noted that one miraculous sign that will accompany those who believe in Him will be the authority and power to cast out demons in His name (Mark 16:16-18).

Jesus spent His ministry educating us to the reality that the affliction we face in this life is not simply a matter of mental health, or physical health, or emotional health. No, the reality of the battles we are fighting are of spiritual health. And He has given us the ability, through the power, love, rescue and restoration offered by the Holy Spirit, to armor up and fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12).

I will never forget when I was delivered from the spirit of death that had afflicted me for so long. I was speaking at a church in Colorado and during a gap in our itinerary, the leadership team invited me back into their offices. They were so full of lovingkindness and so earnest in their care for me.

They sensed in their hearts that I was wrestling with something and they explained that they were passionate about seeing people set free from spiritual affliction. That was where I first learned the power of simply speaking about the affliction we are enduring. We take ground from the enemy who is shaming us into silence when we find courage to articulate our struggle.

I began to open up about this nagging feeling of death and doom that was haunting me and without missing a beat they began to pray some of the most powerful and specific prayers I had ever heard. They led me through warfare prayers that broke generational curses, claimed victory over the enemy in Jesus’ name, and reclaimed jurisdiction in my soul from the grip of unclean spirits. We repented of sins, prayed God would search my heart and draw to mind areas of unforgiveness in my life, areas of deceit, areas of disobedience. We prayed and repented and asked God to cover even the sins I could not draw to mind (Psalm 19:12). And then we praised and trusted. We praised God for His faithfulness to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), we prayed the blood of Jesus over my life—that I would be sanctified by His love (Hebrews 10:10-14). We trusted God for freedom by the power of the Holy Spirit and before I knew it they capped it off with a resounding ‘amen’ and it was time to head to our next event.

I was amazed. And speechless. And couldn’t quite wrap my head around all that had just happened, but my spirit felt instant relief. The next morning I woke up feeling legitimately renewed and from that day forward I was never again afflicted by fears of premature death, thoughts of my inevitable capacity to commit suicide, or doomed feelings of oppression or tragic loss.

I was truly free. In Jesus’ name, I was loosed of that unclean spirit and God’s power was put on display in my life in a truly miraculous way.

There were definite benefits to the ways the world had offered me help up until that point, but no grief counseling or anti-depression medications had been a complete prescription to the affliction of my soul. They had treated the symptoms, but never uprooted the cause. I needed Jehovah Rapha, the Great Physician, the One who is mighty to save, to do surgery on my suffering spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I am truly happy our society is beginning to address mental health. It is very real, very important, and a layer of our well-being that is essential to nurture. However, mental health issues are not the sole answer to the cause of suicide. It is one layer of the problem, but it is not the exhaustive answer to the strangleholds we are wrestling with in growing proportions.

We must recognize that there is spiritual warfare that is real and tangible and we must fight for those around us who are afflicted and don’t know true deliverance or the hope of healing. We must become warriors of intercession. Part of the reason Christ came was to show us how to set the captives free, how to cast out demons, to heal, to love, and to move in power and authority. If we truly desire to make headway in the arena of mental health, then we must begin to speak of spiritual health and the Holy Spirit’s power to completely transform us from the inside out—leading to the complete and transformative renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).

God fiercely loves every single one of us—and Jesus came to set the captives free. May we humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10) in order to understand these realities more fully and by the power of WARFARE PRAYERS put the unclean spirits, including spirits of death and suicide, in their rightful place—a footstool beneath OUR KING’S feet (Hebrews 10:12-13).

For more by Mo Isom visit: http://moisom.com/blog/

 

 

 

 

To Do or Not to Do: Consoling Someone Who Has Experienced Loss from Suicide

First know this: The one who chooses suicide is experiencing torment – to them, death was their only alternative. Their struggle was not against flesh and blood. Even Christians will wrestle against the forces of darkness.

  1. Don’t minimize the loss – they are not better off without their loved one and they do not need to find someone better at this moment. Don’t think that because they have other children or “have so much to be thankful for” they are not in deep grief.
  2. Don’t give uninvited advice.  You could suggest, “Have you thought about …?”
  3. Don’t over spiritualize the loss – he’s in a better place, God will use for good, you are better off. Proverbs 25:20 says it perfectly, “Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.”
  4. Do show up, even if you are afraid to do or say the wrong thing. Your physical presence in their time of hurt means more than many words.
  5. Do listen actively – speak less, listen more.
  6. Don’t ask about details of the death or discuss how they died or what method they used.
  7. Don’t try to relate because you know a story of someone else who “did the same thing” and give the graphic details. Even if you share similar circumstances, every story is unique.
  8. Don’t place blame – did you see this coming, this is genetic, is he bi-polar, someone probably said something to “put them over the edge.”
  9. Don’t make negative comments about the one who died. It is never ever okay to say negative things about the one who died to one the person who is grieving.
  10. Do allow your friend the gift of telling their story over and over again. “Suicide is awkward to talk about with well-meaning people who asked how your parent passed away. But because it wasn’t a “taboo” topic in our family, I never felt ashamed or embarrassed to explain my dad’s story to others. I was thankfully able to recognize that this was his choice, not mine.” – Kayla
  11. Don’t make assumptions – he/she is in Hell, what a selfish thing to do, they must have not had faith in God.
  12. Avoid gossip, slander, and malice – these are the enemy to healing.
  13. Don’t try and fix the problem because you can’t.
  14. Do allow them to grieve while you hold their hand as you would when visiting a friend laying in a coma in the hospital bed. You would never try to physically fix them, but would sit by their side until healing takes place.
  15. Don’t attempt to explain even when the one left behind is wrestling through explanations. There are many sides and perspectives to the story. It is never helpful to try to diagnose the reason the loved one chose to take their life. Just love the grieving person and be there for them.
  16. Do allow them to wrestle with the same questions. It will take a lot of patience, love, prayer and time for them to work through this.
  17. When necessary, carefully – very carefully, speak truth in love at the right time (it may be months or years later).
  18. Don’t evaluate their process in grief giving them a report card or grade on emotional status. Emotions will change and it really does take time.
  19. Do know that suicide is numbing. It is brutally painful and so shocking that it leaves the grieved stunned for years. “I was very young when Daddy passed away so my memory isn’t clear. It took several years before it finally began to sink in that I’d never see my dad on earth again.  As we all know, those first few years are always a blur.  But now as I look back, I can see there was a peace surrounding me even in the midst of the horrible things that had happened. It was almost as if God was saying, “It’s okay, I’ve got this and you.”  So even though we experienced an incredible “bad,” I could see God using it for good the whole time.” – Isaac
  20. Do trust God with them. Trust that God is sovereign over all.  Suicide is not the unpardonable sin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Widow’s Friend

Being a friend to a widow is a special calling in itself. It requires patience, compassion, and a lot of prayer. If you are a friend to a widow, please don’t think for a second that your relationship isn’t important to her. Whether you knew her before her husband died or you became friends after, you are important. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my friends being there to be a listening ear or a helping hand.

So, you may be wondering what exactly to do or say to encourage your friend but aren’t sure how to go about it. There is no honest way for me to give you an exact guideline of how to be an awesome friend to a widow, because I only know my own grief and my own needs—but, I’ve made a little list that I hope and pray will help you to come alongside your friend in her grief and get to know her unique needs so you may meet them the best you can.

  1. Don’t be afraid about not having the “right” thing to say, because honestly, she probably just needs you to just listen more than anything else.
  1. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. There will be times when a widow doesn’t want to talk but still wants to have someone there. Hours after I found out about the death of my husband, a few women came to simply be with me. They said their condolences and then they just stayed around the house. It was nice to have people near, while not having the pressure to communicate. Ask her if she wants to be alone, but don’t assume it for yourself.
  1. Ask her questions. Almost all of my friends would start out with something like this before asking me a question about grief or widowhood or my late husband, “I don’t want to offend you, or pry, so if it’s too much you don’t have to answer.” And then I would laugh because I actually enjoy being asked! Questions meant someone cared. And if you still aren’t sure if it’s okay to ask then simply begin your question with line above!
  1. The obvious thing to do may be to cry with her, but it is so important to not forget to laugh with her. A widow needs friends who aren’t afraid to laugh with her. And she also needs you to know that it doesn’t mean she is “done grieving.”
  1. Invite her. Having a birthday party, holiday party, Super Bowl party, or any get-together and think it may be too soon to invite your widowed friend? Invite her. She may say no, but it’s good for her to know that she hasn’t been forgotten or ousted. After the loss of my husband, I felt like a complete outsider. I knew grief made people uncomfortable, so to have friends that I knew still wanted me around, grief and all, was uplifting—even if I turned the invitation down (which I did a lot).
  1. Acknowledge the hard days. The anniversary of a husband’s death, Mother’s Day (if she is a mother), and her birthday can be hard days. I have had amazing friends who have surprised me with handwritten cards, flowers, and gift cards. Their awareness of tender days for me has been so encouraging to me, and I could never thank them all enough.
  1. Be there to help. Not having a husband to help me with things around the house left me feeling like a burden on others. I’m so grateful for the friends who pushed me to allow them to help me before I was able to humble myself and learn to ask. I could be wrong, but I think every widow will be grateful for yard maintenance—and some house cleaning. Also, having friends she knows she can call on to watch the kids if something’s comes up and family isn’t available. Let her know she isn’t burden, and you enjoy being able to help her.
  1. Pray and get into the Word. Pray for her (and her children) to draw closer to the Lord in their time of suffering and pray for yourself to help them along their journey. Read the Bible with her, text her scripture, encourage her in the Lord. Align your own heart to the Word so that you may be encouraged to encourage, as well.
  1. Lastly, be sensitive. Be loving. There is no real timeline or order for grief. Grief is as unique as each of us are.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12 

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)