On September 25, 2015, my wonderful 30-year-old son-in-law, Patrick, suddenly passed away from an unknown heart related condition. He left my only daughter, Brittany, who was 25, the mom of 3 small boys. The oldest son, Peyton, was one day from turning 3-years-old, Evan was 1 1/2 years old, and Nathan only 3-months-old.
My wife was out of state so it was just Brittany and I at the hospital crying together. My tears were not for Patrick because he knew the Lord and was in heaven, my tears were for my daughter and 3 young boys without a father. God immediately placed in my mind and heart that I must do my best to provide a father figure for those boys.
At nearly 58-years-old and with a busy life of my own as a realtor and flipping houses, I was already spread thin, so I prayed for God to help me help them. They stayed in our home for approximately 6 weeks before they went back to their home and then stayed with us a lot of weekends and holidays. I also stopped by to see them as they live only 25 minutes away.
It has now been almost 4 years and these 3 boys are well balanced, good kids that I believe will do great in life despite not having a father in those early years. These are 3 of my 14 grandchildren, at the time of Patrick’s death, all were 5 or younger and 12 of them are boys! During the early days it was obvious that I spent more time with these 3 than the rest and my 3 sons and daughter-in-laws graciously understand that.
At times, I was their 3rd mom behind my daughter and wife, but most of the time I am just “Pops” to them. I was, and still am, very intentional about everything I do with them.
Her 3 boys are young and resilient and will be good God-fearing successful men with their own families someday soon enough. I’m glad that God somehow gave me the time, strength, energy, and wisdom to be there for them in this season of their lives.
I was not alone in the quest to help these boys, they were blessed to have their other grandfather, several uncles all living nearby, and other men who had also been intentional to pour into them. They are loved and prayed for by many of us and that all combines to make for a great support system for them.
These past.4 years, especially the first 22 months, I changed many diapers, got up during the night more times than my tired body wanted to, fed, cleaned up, clothed, bathed, and did what a father would normally do with them and what their amazing father, Patrick, did for them. We also played, wrestled, rode the 4-wheelers and zip line, went fishing, did routine house chores, like taking out the trash, repairing things, and have many other great memories.
We cannot control what God allows to happen to us but we can choose to make the best of it. I choose to embrace the task and enjoy the journey and that makes all the difference!
My head is clear up here. Maybe because I have time to think and nowhere to go but to seat 35F. The perspective from 30,000 feet is almost life altering. It makes me think about my suffering and the suffering of the world all around me, like most things tend to do these days! On the ground we only see what’s around us, the baggage lifting, the hustling, the inevitable security snafu, plans changing, planes leaving on time, off time, really whenever they want. And for us, the passengers, we don’t really know why in the world we can’t just get on the plane and get to our vacation, our home, our final destination. But then, we finally do get the kids moving, the bags sent off, and all our clothes back on after the security assault. Boom! Trays are locked and seats are upright; we take off. It’s then that everyone takes a deep breath because, for one, drinks and snacks are on the way but mainly because we can see that we are actually going somewhere.
Isn’t it like that with our suffering? We are on the ground level and all we see is chaos. Plans didn’t pan out. Frustrations are mounting. Finally, we fall to our knees screaming, “Get me outta here, I didn’t sign up for this. I just want to get to where I am going.” I’ve been there 1,000 times over. I don’t want the process I want the paradise. I want to skip sanctification and get to the “well done, now come and rest.”
Christ must have felt that too. He is the King over all, yet came down to ground level to live in the hustle and strife of earth. In the garden he pleads with God asking him to deliver him to the destination any other way than the one that was planned, but that’s not what happened, so Christ submitted to the plan, knowing what was to come – purpose, restoration, and life, life for all.
So, when life around you starts to crumble and you think your heart can’t take anymore, bring your hope back up to 30,000 feet. From there you can see that Christ is working for your good. All the little and big things were indeed painful but also momentary and purposeful. God knows every last thing we need to get us to where we are going. What seems meaningless to us on the ground, may not seem so meaningless from the aerial view (thankfully they take the extra time to double check the engine, right?). The cross sure seemed that way too. From ground level it was the brutal death of a faultless man. Keep your hopes high because you have cause to. That dark picture on earth was God working for us an eternal salvation, an eternal final destination with him.
Keep your eyes on the final destination because it’s coming. The anticipation of the destination gives us the endurance we need to fight the stresses and pains of the day to day.
May always used to be my favorite month. The beginning of truly warm and sunny weather, everything that was once lifeless for the winter now lush and green, the end of the school year, and my birthday. Aside from the intense pollen we have here in North Georgia, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about the month of May.
Now it’s a strange month. I stray from saying “bad” because there’s always good to be found, so it’s just a strange month. As April nears its end and May approaches, I find myself becoming easily annoyed and impatient. I know I’m a sinner, it doesn’t take spending much time around me to find that out, but this specific time of year is different. All of my tasks seem overwhelming, and I can’t think clearly.
Then I realize it’s a larger, unanticipated wave of grief crashing on me with strength and persistence. The days surrounding painful anniversaries bring on a sometimes surprising level of grief.
I could say May is a bad month for me, but the truth is it’s a blessed month. The sweetness of salvation becomes greater juxtaposed with the bitterness of loss. And it’s strange, but it’s the good kind of strange.
When grief hits hard, whether expected or unexpected, I encourage you to lean into the One who is strong enough to carry all the pain of the world. We all need relationship with our Heavenly Father. A relationship where we know we are destitute of any hope, and the only hope we have rests in the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
I could tell you a million things to help you along your walk with grief, but there’s only one true way to healing and without that all the rest will only momentarily cover your pain. That one way is Jesus; fixing your eyes on Him, thinking on Him, dwelling and meditating on His word, talking to Him and listening to Him. When we want to scream at the ones we love because we feel strangled by grief, we can cry out to Jesus to not let our flesh be overtaken by the pain of this world. When we feel like we haven’t a bit of energy or mental clarity left to get us through the day (or even begin the day) we can call on our great God to hold us up throughout the day. There is victory in Jesus alone. May is my strange month, but it’s a month filled with the deep reminder that Jesus is the Victor of my life – not me.
Last week we crossed over the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. Without fail, this day still produces a catch in my throat, tear in my eye, and tenderness in my heart. It doesn’t take much effort for memories of the trauma to flood my soul even for my children as well.
Is that okay? I think so. May 17th is our Good Friday—a dark day of death. Are we emotionally stuck even after two solid decades? I don’t think so. For the Apon family of nine, remembering this scene in life’s drama has been good, necessary, and impossible to avoid. This is the day that changed the trajectory of our lives.
From our finite view, this day wasn’t supposed to happen, or was it? God wrote the story in a book even before time began. Because of Psalm 139 we know He knew, but did He allow or appoint such suffering? The same unanswered questions remain. The enemy knows when and how to use these to bring torment, if I let him. However, like Job, my response to silence the enemy keeping me at a place of surrender to my God is this information is too wonderful for me!
God responded to Job’s questions with the reminder of Who He was instead of explaining what He was doing. In my Bible, the title of this section makes me smile, “Job’s wise silence.” We are told that Job even put a hand over his mouth almost as if to say, “I am nothing, know nothing, and already said too much.” I can relate to Job.
“Then Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
When you break down the word wonderful in this famous response, it means marvelous, surpassing, extraordinary, beyond one’s power, and difficult to understand. Most of us easily admit that suffering is beyond our control and too difficult to understand, but to define suffering as marvelous, surpassing, and extraordinary requires an eternal faith-based perspective. Shifting the focus from the natural to the supernatural is often a moment by moment, day by day, week by week and year by year requirement for healing.
It is so crazy how life can be going one way one minute and can literally come crashing down in the next minute. April 7th is one of those days, and it is a day I will never forget. I was driving back from Brunswick, Georgia after the most fun weekend with one of my best friends. Life was good. Halfway through our drive, I received an unexpected text that was going to change everything. It was a text telling me that my best friend’s husband, Evan, had gone into cardiac arrest and had been declared brain dead. I had to read the text multiple times just to allow my brain to register what I was even reading. I remember thinking “Evan who?” There was no way it was Evan Gill. Our Evan. The Evan that we know and love so deeply. The Evan who made us laugh more than anyone else in the world. The Evan who loved sauce more than the food he was eating. The Evan whose personality was bigger than life itself. There was just no way.
I was in so much shock, tears were streaming down my face before I even realized I was crying. I was crying at the sudden death of our friend Evan, and I was crying thinking about Lauren, his wife. I can remember saying over and over again in disbelief, “My best friend is a widow. Lauren is a widow. At 25 years old, she is now a widow.” All I wanted to do was get to my friend.
Walking through the doors of that hospital still seems so surreal. When Lauren walked out of the room, I hugged her, and we wept. Through her tears she mustered out words I will never forget, “Evan is not coming home. He’s not coming home to me.” I had no words. None. All I could do was fall to my knees and cry with her. Losing Evan as a friend was the hardest thing I’ve ever walked through. Watching Lauren say goodbye to her husband as they rolled him away was even harder. The grief of those moments are unmatched in my memories. I will never forget the sounds of the rawest parts of her soul crying out as she said goodbye to what she thought was her forever. There was no preparing for it. You can never really know what it’s like until you’re in it. All I knew for sure is that she is my best friend, and while I would have given anything to mend her broken heart and take the pain away, I knew that was the Lord’s job, and I would have to trust him as he walked with her through the valley of the shadow of death.
I remember shortly after talking with our girlfriends, we had NO idea how to be the friend of a widow at 25. What do we say? What do we do? We were truly at a loss. However, God made it so clear to me that all I had to do was walk. Not walk ahead of her and try to direct her steps, not to walk behind her and let her fend for herself, but to walk WITH her. As her friend, I was called to fight, pray, hope, believe, and worship on her behalf when she was too broken to do so herself. I was called to cling to hope on her behalf when she had none. I was called to declare victory over her life when she didn’t believe she would overcome. I was called to believe that Jesus WOULD turn these ashes into beauty, that He WOULD reopen her heart to hope again, to love again, and have courage to keep moving forward.
I was called to sit and listen to her as she processed things out loud. I was called to be sad and cry with her. And I was called to CELEBRATE too! To celebrate the wins, reminding her that joy and grief can coexist. LET THEM!
Side note: It’s okay to laugh and to still have good times in the midst of hard times. You do not have to feel guilty about that! As hard as this past year was, the moments when Lauren would laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe or felt some sort of emotion other than grief, were the moments that brought hope during the hardest times. Seeing a widow experience those joyous things amongst the grief are truly gifts from God. We held onto those because I believe they were unique ways that hope was being rerooted in her life again.
And just like there is no ABC way to grieve, there is no ABC way to walk with somebody. It will look different for everyone. As long as you are seeking the Lord and taking it one day at a time, I promise you will find your way, because just as the Lord was guiding Lauren’s steps, He was also guiding mine all along. Surely, he will yours too!
Unfortunately, there will be people along the journey that will find it hard to walk with her and it might make things harder rather than easier. There will be people who will be quick to judge and criticize the way a widow goes about her life moving forward. If a person won’t walk with her, truly walking day to day with her, they will have NO idea how the Lord is healing, guiding, and leading her. So we must first remember, scripture has called us to care for the widows, not tear them down. Caring isn’t assuming we know what’s best for them, but actually listening to them. Just because they are grieving does not mean that they are incapable of living their life. At the end of the day, I trust Christ in Lauren and I trust that He was, is, and will continue guiding her every step.
Grace over criticism will go a long way in the healing of a widow. Trying to take control of a widow’s life won’t bring you healing or take the pain away, only Jesus can do that. So instead, hear what they are saying and know that regardless of what life may look like from the outside, they are not only grieving the loss but also the life they had and the future they wanted but will not get. So, I ask of you, if you know a widow, be kind to her because I promise you, nothing about her life is easy right now and the last thing she needs is added hardship and unnecessary pain.
Lastly, friend, as you walk with the widow know that moving forward does not mean that you are forgetting the person you have lost. We will ALWAYS miss Evan. Always. Nobody would ever try to replace him because literally nobody ever could. Moving forward isn’t moving on. Moving forward is trusting and believing that Jesus is 10,000 steps ahead of us in all of this. AND, not moving forward is exactly what Satan wants. He wants us to sit in our grief forever. He doesn’t want us to move forward because moving forward is merely a reflection of God’s grace, hope, healing, and provision and that is the last thing the enemy wants.
If you are reading this and you happen to be the friend of a widow, first let me say that I’m so sorry for the loss and pain you are experiencing. It hurts. So much. And there is no other way around that. Even when you feel so lost and it doesn’t feel like it, remember that your friendship matters, Jesus is bigger, and there are brighter days ahead. Here’s to you and your journey with your friend. I wish you weren’t on this path, but I am confident you will both know Jesus more deeply because of it.
It has been a great joy to fulfill God’s call to meet the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the widow and fatherless through Perspective Ministries! Since the beginning of the year we have met 314 emotional needs, 102 spiritual needs and reminded the fatherless 119 times that God is Father as promised in Psalm 68:5.
Emotional needs are met through the timely arrival of a bouquet of flowers, cards, butterfly gardens, ice cream gift cards, Easter lilies, and resources to help with the grief process. Spiritual needs are met as we disciple widows through our monthly WidowLife support groups. And we are always looking for opportunities to encourage the widowed mom. Her job is difficult, and we feel it is important to remind her that God is there as her defender and the Father to her children. It’s exciting to have already gifted camp scholarships for four fatherless girls this year!
God’s timing is always perfect as Jennifer shares:
I thought about not sending my daughters to church camp this year thinking we might use the money for elsewhere, but the Lord spoke clearly to my heart, and I knew they were supposed to go and room together as sisters. I spoke to them about this idea and learned that they really wanted to go, and this news made them happy!
As I was paying their deposit, I was told to write their names on the memo line. As I was writing, the staff member said, “Ivey and Erica? You won’t believe this, but Perspective Ministries just called let us know they wanted to scholarship your girls for camp!” WOW, this was an enormous financial blessing and the timing confirmed that they are supposed to go. God’s will is undeniable! Thank you Perspective Ministries!!!
Often, we hear stories of how a card, gift, or visit was perfectly timed by the Lord.
Looking for ways to care for the widow in a practical and meaningful way this spring and summer? Through the years Perspective Ministries has found some amazing ways to bring light and love into these women and children’s lives. We would be honored for you to make a donation in one or more of these areas of need. Help us make this spring and summer one to remember!
As Mother’s Day approaches, let’s remember the Widowed Mom as her job can often continue to be hard and heavy. Pray she meets God as her el Roi, the One who sees. “According to U.S. census bureau as of 2009, there are around 13.7 million single parents in the United States alone. These parents are managing to raise around 21.8 million children – which in case you are wondering is 1/4th of all the children in the United States. This means that 1 out of every 4 children is being raised in a single parent household. Of these households, around 87% of them are headed up by one of the most powerful, levelheaded and adept people on earth. A single mom.” (Professors House, A Tribute to Single Moms)
A great way to show a Widowed Mom you care is by giving her and her kids a fun night off! Consider donating to Perspective Ministries as we care for Widowed Moms on Mother’s Day:
$25-50: Bruster’s Ice Cream Gift Cards
$100: Restaurant Gift Cards
$150: Mother’s Day Pampering Basket
Delivering flowers or planting them in her garden reminds her that when her focus is on God, she can bloom where she is planted! Will you make a donation to helping the widow feel seen by her community in this way?
$75: Sending Her Flowers
$300: Plant Her Garden
$500: Maintain Her Yard (this will allow Perspective Ministries to provide consistent lawn care, especially through the warmer months).
One of the biggest gifts you can give to a Widowed Mom is loving her fatherless children well! Please consider making a donation to Perspective Ministries as we provide a summer of love to both the Widow-Mom and her kids!
$25: Butterfly Gardens for the widow and her kids! (this is a great reminder that life can indeed come after death!)
$25-100: Gift Cards for summer activities and travel
$250: Send a Fatherless Child to Camp!
$50-500: Give them a day to relax (Day passes to White Water/Aquarium/Movies)
Thank you for caring for the widow and her children! We are excited that you have entrusted Perspective Ministries with your donation as together we care for the widows and children God has led to us.
To make a donation, click here!
A famine required relocation for survival taking Naomi, her husband, and two sons to a completely new place. Soon after their arrival, Naomi’s husband died leaving her a widow in a strange idol-worshiping land.
Being transported to a physical far-off land isn’t necessary for a widow to feel estranged in her own community. When the curtain falls signaling the end of the marriage season, women left alone often experience loss of the familiar taking them to unknown territory emotionally and sometimes physically. Here she finds herself in an identity crisis—she is no longer a wife, but a widow with the potential not only to uproot her physical being but her identity as well. One moment she is Mrs. Elimelech and overnight she became Naomi-the-widow, asking who am I?
Within a few short years, Naomi also buried her two sons! Talk about potential to lose identity—she was now no longer a wife or a mom! I will be the first to admit how easy it is to wrap ourselves up in the identity of who we are to other people or for other people instead of who God says we are. Not only do our roles in our family vie for our identity, but our dreams and aspirations also create a sense of a false self—someone I want to be but deep inside I am not. Don’t fret, the Apostle Paul struggled with this identity dilemma as well when he cried out, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…miserable person that I am” (Romans 7:15,24).
In order to identify someone or something, one must recognize traits that establish the person or thing. If three objects were presented for identification, their characteristics would help one to identify that specific substance. For example: hard, grey, and mass of stone would help one to detect a rock. Noticing a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid would aid in detecting water. We recognize people in similar fashion—by their appearance, sound of voice, or the way they smell. These characteristics help to clarify who we are; however, identity is determined not only by outward appearance but who we are as a whole.
For the Christian, Jesus Christ plays a huge part in our identity. In fact, Jesus paid a high price—purchased us with His blood so that our identity would be in Him and not ourselves. We must die daily allowing Christ to live His life in us. My identity is no longer my own unique personality, but His. If someone wants to identify a Christ follower, the characteristics of Jesus Christ must be evident, “no longer I but Christ.” My identity should not be based on who I think I should be or who others want me to be but in who Jesus says that I am. My identity is in Christ.
Rejected: I am God’s special possession
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 14:2
Betrayed: I am chosen by God
“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION…” 1 Peter 2:9
Worthless: God treasures me
“The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you…” Deuteronomy 26:18
Messed up: Forgiven
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
In bondage: Free indeed
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Unprotected: God is a Defender of the widow
“… a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5
Unloved: Loved beyond comprehension
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
Set aside: Set apart
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain…” John 15:16
Widowed: Jesus is a Husband to the widow
“For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah 54:5
Fatherless: Child of God~Fathered
“A father to the fatherless is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5
Insecure: Eternally security
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27-28
When tragedy strikes, it is easy to place our identity in that crisis instead of Christ. Our circumstances become our identity—widow, divorced, betrayed, fatherless, rich, or poor. Naomi returned home embracing the identity of bitter only to discover as time went on that God would change her circumstances to better. Did you know that this bitter-circumstanced-widow became the great, great, great, great, great grandmother of Jesus Christ?! That’s right! Her daughter-in-law from that foreign land followed her home experiencing conditions allowing her to meet Boaz—her kinsman redeemer placing her in the bloodline of Christ.
Growing up in a Christian home laid the foundation for my strong desire to be a wife and mother. Trusting God to fill that desire, I enrolled in Liberty University as an early education major. Much to my surprise and delight I met the love of my life, Jay, in January 1987 of my sophomore year. Our first date was in February and we were married in August…a whirlwind romance.
Jay had been in the Navy and was super intelligent, skilled in electronics and computers, and loved studying and talking about theology and the Bible. He was easy-going, optimistic, very affectionate, and always wanted me to feel loved and be happy. He brought balance to my “Type A” planner, organizer, worrier, perfectionist personality. We were very involved in our church and missions and we were devoted to our families. Jay and I were in agreement that I should be a stay-at-home mom as long as the Lord allowed.
After four years we began our family with our oldest daughter, Candace. Not quite two years later came MaryKate. Then four years later we had our son, Joshua. God had given me the family I’d always dreamed of, but not without sacrifice and struggle. Despite job losses, financial strains, family issues and losses, and marital stress, we believed God’s promises and He remained faithful.
Jay had always been in excellent health and was very active. Around 2007-8 he began having some digestive system and abdominal pain issues. After various tests were clear, other than some acid reflux and gall stones, one scan did show 2-3 “giant hemangiomas” on his liver. We met with a surgeon who assured us that many people live with these and never know it. Doctors just leave them alone since they present no problems. A year or so later blood work showed Jay was anemic. More tests still produced no significant diagnosis or improvement. All the while I was thinking “it’s those hemangiomas.” We were finally referred to a specialist who confirmed the hemangiomas were the problem and needed to be removed. We felt confident to proceed with surgery on December 6, 2010. Surgery took much longer than anticipated because the hemangiomas were more involved, and the doctor had to take much more of the liver than expected. After 10 days of misery trying to recover in the hospital, Jay went into cardiac arrest, and went home to be with the Lord on December 17 at the age of 47.
I’ll never forget the 5:00 a.m. phone call telling us to get to the hospital right away. Hearing Jay had passed from a devastated surgeon, who had never lost a patient before, was a feeling of dread like I had never before or since experienced. What was I going to tell the kids? How would we pay our bills? I didn’t work and Jay had no life insurance. Would we lose our home? How could I get Candace through college and keep MaryKate and Josh in Christian school? Who would walk the girls down the aisle? Who would teach Josh how to be a godly man? How could I be a widow at 43? GOD HELP ME!
And help me He did! God has provided for us in more ways than I have space to write. From taking care of tuition expenses, a job at the kids’ school, an AC unit at a deep discount, new tires, many vehicle repairs, a hot water heater, a new car, money for Christmas and bills, vacations, and on and on. Great is His faithfulness! I’ve come to know God in a much deeper way as a widow. He is my devoted husband and loving father to my children. He fulfills every need in His time and His way which always exceeds anything I could think or ask. Total dependence upon God and prayer is the ONLY way I have persevered for 8 years. There are many days I’d rather stay curled up in bed in the fetal position feeling sorry for myself. But because He lives, I continue to press on and live out whatever plans He has for me, “to give me a future and a hope.”
Anna was left alone after a brief seven years of marriage. The only part of her life that God chose to include in His Word is that she spent the rest of her life serving in the temple until the age of 84. Oh, to know exactly what this must have looked like. Did she have a bedroom there in the house of God? As a prophetess, “a woman to whom future events or things hidden from others are at times revealed,” was she on the temple staff? “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” Wow! She never ever left the temple? Was this her decision? Did she have other options? Did she actually pray from sunrise to sunset?
Fasting is giving up food for the purpose of prayer. Scripture records only one instance where Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2) but His 40 day fast was unlike any other—it prepared Him for His three-year ministry that would end in victory of resurrection life over death.
Jesus, the Son of God, is known for prayer:
“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Matthew 26:36
If Jesus chose to fast and pray, these disciplines are worth our consideration as well. The widow, Anna, is the kind of woman I would like to enjoy a cup of tea with learning the details of her story and prayer life. Even though much is left out, there is enough information to present a challenge for our own personal lives:
She never left the temple. News and anticipation of a coming Messiah hovered over time and space. In those days, the temple represented the presence of God – He was there even before He was there! Anna chose to remain in the presence of God for the rest of her life in the absence of the man in her life. We don’t need to take up actual residence in the local church building today because through Jesus, God makes His home in us.
During our dark seasons of grief, we can choose to leave God in or out of our life. But He is indeed our covering and defense. With this promise, we can take Anna’s perspective to live in His presence—to never leave the temple. During the storm, to see God as refuge and fortress—and discovering great is His faithfulness.
She served day and night. One of the realities of being left alone is that you have been left alone. Time is on your hand even if you have been launched into the busiest season you’ve ever known with the extra tasks on your plate without a husband. How you spend your time is yours. When Joshua was called to lead His people to the Promise Land, he professed, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Precious friend, may we be like Anna in making the same declaration – as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. This new season has great opportunity. You can let life’s circumstances become a crutch to lean on or a chisel to mold you into a vessel of great use in God’s Kingdom.
She served with fastings and prayers. Anna modeled for us important tools required for serving the Lord and walking through this journey – with fasting and prayer. Fasting is surrendering lack in exchange for His presence and power paired with talking to the Almighty God in prayer.
Because of Anna’s position in the valley with over 60 years of fasting and praying while waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, when the Jesus was presented in the temple as a babe she recognized Him, gave thanks to God and shared this great news with others!
“At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Luke 2:36-38
Month 42 looks a lot different than month one. Daughter, sister, friend, wife, teacher, widow, creator, maker, plant lover, wife again… Of all the hats I wear and roles I play, I’d call myself a fragmented mess this week.
Pouring over my journal from the first year after my husband, Tim, died, I recorded snippets I wrote in week one, month one, month seven, month twenty-four. I transcribed Bible verses that had buoyed me through some of my earliest, darkest days. Then moving bits and pieces around, I tried to pull out some sharable message from the blur of memories and past thinking. I edited down, slept on it, reread it, waiting for that moment when it all clicked. But something wasn’t right. This wasn’t how my writing went—it usually came pouring out of me in one fell swoop needing only a few grammatical fixes and then, boom. Done.
Why was this so hard for me? Why couldn’t I find the words to share one of my most sacred stories? Frustrated and sad, I talked it through with my now husband, Ben, who knew and deeply loved Tim, and watched me walk through the last years of cancer and the early days of grief. He knows the details well, he knows my heart, he has seen the underside of grief that can carry me away, and he agreed that something wasn’t quite ringing true in my words. He encouraged me to write from my perspective today, not from my past. I had changed, but I was trying to go back and tell an old version of my story. So, I deleted it all—all 2,500(!) words I originally gathered, all of my efforts to explain what this is like, and started over early one morning, after the week that had kicked my butt was finally over.
The word widow doesn’t quite feel right for me – it never has. I wish I could create a word without the charged, pitied image that comes to mind. Even that though, the desire for a different title, shows this deep longing I’ve felt my whole life. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I fear the potential of being misunderstood, especially on my dark days. Yet once your person dies and you’re left with a shattered world to eventually reclaim as your own, being misunderstood is part of your inherited struggle. How could we possibly articulate what this is like?
Here we are – irreversibly different. Now, I talk to hummingbirds every day because that is one of the ways I feel close to Tim, when before, I wasn’t really sure I believed in anything like that. Now, I lead a room full of fifth-graders through the ups and down of learning (and hormones starting), when three and a half years ago, I could barely get out of my bed.
I now have an innate sense of how to show up for my student whose mom just died of cancer. God is aligning me – he is using and growing every part of me – all the pain, loss, and confusion, as well as all the persistence, connection, and hope. Without having lost Tim, I wouldn’t know how to do this. I am so incredibly sad for my student and his family, and so incredibly glad to love him from a deep place of knowing.
I now have an intimate relationship with feeling two (or more!) emotions simultaneously that seem to contradict one another – joy and sadness, peace and confusion, hope and sometimes even despair. Once you lose someone, the gray feels much more like home than the black and white naivete that, “it’ll all work out.” Well, it didn’t work out, and yet here I am, continuing to live a life full of promise, love, and meaning. I’m sad and I’m grateful. Now, my relationship to God has a frankness that is so much more compelling and real than the felt-storyboard version of faith I started growing as a child. God is good, all the time, not just when things are “going well.” I am grateful for His unchanging character in the midst of the constant ebb and flow of this life.
During an assembly at my school, we watched a short video about raising money for kids with cancer. As soon as I saw that the main character was a little redheaded boy (Tim was a redhead before chemo made him bleachy blond), I leaned over to my mentor and said, “I don’t think I can watch this.” Of course, I did, though, and as the story progressed, tears started falling down my cheeks, ever more rapidly. I couldn’t get it together and could tell the kindergarteners I was sitting by were wondering what was up with me… so I stepped out. I sat, I sobbed, I was comforted by colleagues who know all about Tim- I was completely swept away by a wave of grief so fresh it felt like month one all over again. And then, back I went, red face and all, to check in with my fifth-graders, sharing how much that video reminded me of Tim, and how important it is to help families going through cancer. Then, we kept going with our day.
We keep going. We are sad, funny, scared, irritated, thankful, bold, quiet, loud, and every contradiction possible, in the most beautiful, fragmented, pieced together ways. We may not ever be able to fully let others into this experience – to be misunderstood is part of this path – and yet we know that God sees us. The inevitable growth and change of grief may make people uncomfortable, but it also creates in us a beauty that can really change lives. My hope as you read my words is that you feel space to feel all the layers, to press into who God is shaping you to be, today.
Trusting God with our finances can be so scary, especially after losing the security of a loved one. In the uncertainty of the widow’s journey, it can be so easy to close our hands around what is left after the death, but greater freedom will be found in opening our hands and provisions to God, allowing Him to do what He wills! But we know that trust and change doesn’t usually happen overnight, so here are so verses to give you confidence in our one true Provider.