If you would have told me 8 months ago that I would never speak to my husband again, never look at him, never kiss him, never receive a text message from him, I would have told you to put a pillow over my face because I wouldn’t be able to survive one single day without him. If you would have told me that he wouldn’t be here to lay with every night and feel his warmth, reach up on my tippy toes to kiss him, or hear his handsome voice telling me he loves me ever again, I wouldn’t have been able to fathom the pain of what that may feel like and I would just assume to not feel it, and put me out of that misery before I would have the chance to experience it. Yet here I am every night falling asleep alone, looking at my phone and not seeing his name pop up, nor seeing him walk through the door. And it really is more painful than I would have imagined if you would have told me this would be my life. 8 months later, how I am getting through every day is beyond my own capability.
Ever since the day I met him, we talked- phone, text, Facebook message, snapchat, sticky notes- all the things- all day- everyday- for exactly 5 years. I was one of those over-bearing girlfriends when he wouldn’t answer a text back within a reasonable amount of time, I would become upset. Why? Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I craved to talk to him because he was my most favorite person in the entire world. Not talking to someone who I had an endless conversation with for 5 years is truly beyond my own capability.
We honestly did everything together. Grocery shopped, worked out, cooked, bathed our dog…when my prescription was ready at the pharmacy, the three of us (yes, our dog Daisy, too) would pile in the car and drive a half a mile down the road to get it. We didn’t do anything without each other. Why? Maybe I’m not independent enough. Or maybe because he was my partner in everything and I didn’t question doing anything without him. Or perhaps I somehow knew our time was limited. So how I am going to the grocery store by myself, out to coffee alone, or raising a 94-pound stubborn dog without his help, is positively beyond my own capability.
I feel like I have shared a few personal things, so why not dig a little deeper. Before our wedding, I developed debilitating anxiety. It came out of nowhere and it took over my life with full force. I think it stemmed from the fear of standing up in front of 150 people with everyone staring at me at the altar on my wedding day. Obviously, I wasn’t anxious of who I was marrying- it was just this unexplainable fear of having to stand up there for 15 minutes in the Atlanta summer heat. I still can’t explain why or where this anxiety came from, which makes it more frustrating. Regardless, Matt did some exposure therapy with me to try to overcome this irrational fear. He made me stand outside in the Houston heat (much hotter than Atlanta) in my wedding shoes, with a hooded sweatshirt on for 30 minutes, twice as long as our ceremony was supposed to be. (Can I just brag for a second about my sweet husband? Without judgement or criticism, he helped me through my absolute ridiculousness). And it worked because even though I felt jittery at the altar, it wasn’t as hot or as long as when we were “training.” The point of this obscenely silly story is to just put in to perspective how fearful and anxious I was 8+ months ago, when everything in my life was 100% perfectly fine. So, imagine now that something very real and terrifying happened to me, what my anxiety should be…
I was the Matron of Honor at my best friend’s wedding a few weekends ago. At her wedding, I stood up there husbandless, widowed, scared and scarred. But I was up there. I wrote a speech but convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to read it, told my friends that I wasn’t going to read it and that I would just write a nice letter to the bride and groom- up until the DJ called us up there as it was time for speeches. Something literally pulled me up from my chair and held me up there. I was able to read the words off my phone and through the microphone in front of 150 people. How I stood up there is exceptionally beyond my own capability.
All of this, the big and little things, that I’ve done in the past 8 months, are beyond my own capability and 100% through the strength Christ has given me through the Holy Spirit. This isn’t meant to brag or tell you all “I’m fine!” or “all is well.” I am writing to tell you why I can be fine. I am not fine on my own. I am not strong on my own, I am strong with Jesus. I am no longer anxious like I used to be, not because I just “got over” the things that made me feel anxious, but because I know God is in control. It is not worth the energy to be worried because God knows what will happen the next minute from now, tomorrow, and next year.
Would it be easier to hide under my covers and say no to all the opportunities that have arose since Matt has been gone? Of course. Do I hear the lies and fears running through my mind? All the time. Is it easier to listen to those lies rather than to ignore them and hand them over to God? Yep, it’s so tempting to believe them. Am I “okay?” A lot of the time, no, I am not. Bitterness, anger, pitifulness, and deep, deep grief do take up a lot of my emotions. But when I choose to see all of God’s works being put together piece by piece – joy, hope, and thankfulness begin to take over those other stages of grief.
Most of the advice I hear when I encounter a challenging situation is “give it to God”. Sounds easy… How do I actually DO that? It’s a constant learning process and I am trying all the time. But here are two things I cannot ignore:
I still have hopes and dreams for my future. A single dream cannot be put together based upon my own capability, it is through the power and sovereignty of Jesus Christ that dreams (big and small) will be fulfilled according to His plan so long as I put my trust in Him and honor Him. God isn’t going to offer me an instant solution, it is going to be a long, long road following Him, but He will point the way forward. I am confident that, in this storm, He is never going to let me down.
What are you going through right now that would be a lot easier if you handed it over to God? What dreams of yours haven’t been fulfilled because you haven’t invited God to help piece things together? What are you trying to accomplish that you can’t complete with only your own capability? Follow Jesus, He will point the way forward. You don’t have to do it on your own. You will be able to do the things you thought were impossible when you invite the God into your situation.
I am standing on the other side of everything I am afraid of, and God is standing there with his arms wide open*. He is walking with me, opening and closing doors, making things work together better than I could myself, He is good even when life isn’t.
*Lyrics from Wide Open by Northpoint INSIDEOUT.
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzOaWq5YczA
Well over a year into widowhood, I found myself watching the girl with the sparkle in her eye and a hearty smile. She was goofy and seemingly carefree dancing and laughing in her dining room – and I was totally jealous. I wanted to be like her with all of her happiness.
The weird thing is, that dancing girl was me. I was watching a home video of my late husband and I, and boy, was I happy. I didn’t feel the pain of missing my husband, because he was right there with me in the room. As I watched all of our home videos and looked through our pictures, the same question jabbed at me; Who am I now? Will I ever be who I was before? The differences between the pre and post-widow me weren’t only in my carefree expressions of happiness, it was in how I could hardly remember someone’s name anymore, or how I felt like I could crumble under the expectations of how others thought I should be grieving. Pre-widow me knew (well, thought she knew) what her next step in life would be, but post-widow me wasn’t totally sure if she’d be any good for the work of the Kingdom of God. Post-widow me was tired and so easily agitated. Post-widow me struggled with fear of the future. Would I ever remember people’s names, have energy again, laugh until my abs hurt, or not dread good-bye’s so severely?
I believe the answer is an anomaly—no, but yes. Originally, I feared the answer “no,” but I now understand it isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. No doubt, it would be a fearful thing if the answer “no” weren’t also bundled with the answer, “yes.” There are so many similarities between myself now and who I was before, but overall, we are not the same and I praise God for that. I’m much slower to frustration again and I laugh until I can’t breathe again, but I still won’t be who I was before widowhood. Suffering is a refining process. God can use our pain to refine us in certain ways, and refining is not bad.
If our lives are surrendered to Christ Jesus, we shouldn’t want to remain the same, but rather to continuously grow in step with the Spirit. I’m glad I’m not who I was before Michael died, but it did require a season of pain and mourning to get here. And the journey is certainly not over. In the midst of the “Who am I stage?” we need to remember the identity God has given us, if we belong to Him. It’s an identity that isn’t swayed by our circumstances or emotions.
Becoming a widow did not strip me of the title of a child of God. Through tears from the pain of missing Michael, I could also rejoice in the fact that my Heavenly Father was doing a good work in me. When we don’t know who we are, we can trust Abba to always be who He says He is. When we feel our earthly identity is flaky, we can trust that the identity Abba has given us is sure and steady. We can trust God to use the pain and struggle of uncertainty to make us look more like His Son. We will laugh again, but we will never be who we were before the pain of widowhood entered our lives—and that’s a beautiful thing if we’re allowing the Spirit to lead us through it.
Setting our eyes on who we are is scary and ugly no matter what stage of life we’re in. We were not meant to find security in who we are, we were meant to find security in who God is. Our circumstances are going to reveal to us just how unstable we really are. Whether we allow God to use that to show us how stable He is, is up to us. While we’re redirecting our hearts and minds to Christ, He is growing and changing us to be more like Him. Being a new person is sweet, if it means becoming more like Jesus.
Growth and change look so different in different seasons. There are seasons of slow growth and rapid growth; seasons of invisible growth and visible growth. Nevertheless, if we are following Christ and living by the Holy Spirit we can trust God that He is growing us and changing us for our good and His glory. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable process, but it is worth it. I can confidently say, that the joy I have now in widowhood is not a result of my circumstances or my wavering personality, but instead because of who God is and who He says I am.
John 1:12-13 (NKJV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
I cut the grass because I love yard work and exercise. ?
I cut the grass because my husband is gone and it’s my turn to take over the yardwork. ?
I cut the grass because I cannot afford a lawn service. ☹
I cut the grass because the grass needed to be cut. ☹
Any of these you? Let’s give it up for all women out there who enjoy cutting the grass! For the first 40 years of my life, I had not experienced this joy (it’s all about perspective, right?). I cut the grass for the first time two years after my husband died. I know, I know, I was a spoiled woman! What can I say? My dad didn’t believe that women should cut the grass and neither did my husband – women worked on the inside and the men worked on the outside. But now someone had to cut the grass! I knew my 9-year-old son would soon be old enough to take on this responsibility, but I wanted to have a feel for what that would involve.
On that particular day, I had cooked several pots of spaghetti, lasagna, baked homemade bread, conquered many loads of laundry, orchestrated Saturday house cleanup with my eight small children AND added cutting the grass to my Widow Mom resume, all by noon! The adrenaline was flowing for sure. I remember proudly wondering how many men could accomplish that much by lunchtime?! In fact, I was singing, “Anything you can do I can do better!” Only God knows what kind of character He was trying to build in me (or tear down)!
Oh, if you could have witnessed my grass-cutting escapade – for the first half of my sloped front yard, I cut row after row without the self-propelled lawn mower in the self-propel gear! My neighbor had a good laugh watching me struggle to push the mower across the grass. When I saw him standing in my yard, I praised him for maintaining my lawn the first two years, letting him know he was receiving a lot of prayers at the moment – prayers of gratitude because I didn’t have to cut the grass up to this point. With that, he asked if he could show me just one little feature on the lawn mower, you guessed it, how to put the mower in the self-propel mode! I couldn’t believe it. WOW, I could dance while I mowed now and felt like I could cut his lawn as well! I even discovered that I liked cutting the grass! And I learned that sanctification is messy. This process was more about the work God wanted to do in my heart not in my yard. How often do I move through life on self-propel without allowing God to do the job for me? His yoke is easy when I wear His yoke.
Although my sons will tell you a different story because 19 years passed by before I cut the grass again! By the way, my sons don’t believe women should cut the grass either, but it’s hard to tackle the job long distance.) As an empty nest approached, I decided to come out of grass-cutting retirement and take on this job once again, plus I decided to take on the weeds too! Yes, I have weeds in my yard, but not because I like the look. I first tried complaining to the company that sprays my yard periodically that the side yard was full of “unwanted plants,” their response didn’t help much, “Ma’am, we don’t spray the wooded areas.” Sadly, there were no “wooded areas” in my yard, just obvious neglect. So, rolling up my sleeves, I went to work spraying, pulling, and fighting off this enemy in my land. With the help of my strong sons, we whipped the yard back into shape with the expectation to receive the Yard of the Month award.
Crazy, but I felt God speak to me about taking on this responsibility. He gave me a few guidelines, if you cut the grass, you must have a good attitude—no woe-is-me, sad-Sally defiance creeping into my attitude. I also heard him say that I could handle this responsibility and yes, the exercise would be good for me, ouch! So, with that in mind, I made it through with a few lessons learned.
First, thankfulness! Thankfulness for the years my husband, neighbors and sons provided for all my lawn care needs—it’s amazing how a little hands-on work will amp up your appreciation. Second, I learned that I CAN cut the grass and I can like it! (It’s really not much harder than vacuuming the house, but oh for the day they come out with a Roomba for the yard!) Widows have the opportunity, yes note the word opportunity, to do things our married friends do not, and that’s okay, and sometimes fun, albeit stretching! God knows that we have needs – He sees them all. He will show us what we can and cannot do. When the responsibility is beyond our ability (as it was for me for many years), He will provide another way. And finally, as you take on new tasks keep your eyes out for the weeds, you don’t want all that hard work to be wasted by unwelcome guests – like it is in our hearts, no truly good work can be done if we do not allow God to tame the weeds in our hearts making us a vessel useful for his purposes! Although a “prize” would be nice, an “atta girl” or massage at the end of the day, the satisfaction that I did a job to the best of my ability as unto the Lord is enough.
“For we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I am fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12
God brought my husband and I together confirming our decision to marry every step of the way. We both began our journey together knowing that it was “of God” – a gift to both of us.
Because of the many ways God united us, we chose to have our wedding bands inscribed with, “Everything God does, remains forever.” We knew in our hearts that God was bringing us together for a purpose…it felt almost supernatural. However, through the years I had forgotten that this verse was inscribed on my wedding band. Soon after my husband took his own life, I remembered and was disappointed that my “forever” didn’t match God’s “forever.”
The saying goes, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings…” But what happens if the fat lady doesn’t sing in your life and it’s all over (or so it seems)?! What happens when you are journeying down the road of life and the road ends before your journey? Or what if you get on “the road” before you are ready to begin your journey? My marriage was over in many ways before it really started. I took my wedding ring off thinking, maybe I had missed God completely! It is interesting how we are ready to ask for a refund on our ticket just because “the fat lady doesn’t sing!”
Five years after his death, God asked me to re-direct my focus back to my original trust in Him concerning my marriage. I was ready to write this season off as a mistake, but God gently began to show me that eight children represented a lot of “forever” taking place because of my commitment unto the Lord in marrying my husband. God encouraged me to put my wedding ring back on, re-direct my focus, and trust Him.
After making this decision, I took the big step to take the ring to the jewelry store to be re-sized for my right hand. The young girl at the counter was very kind to help me and patiently listened to my story. We finally decided on the new size. I gulped a bit when she announced the price to have this job done, but I heard God say, “it’s okay.” As I was leaving the store, I had an idea. I wonder if I could put eight small stones around the single diamond to represent the “forever” from my marriage. I asked to speak with the master jeweler to see if it would be possible.
When the jeweler came out to help me, his first comments were, “You’re Bobby Apon’s wife!” I had only been to this jewelry store a couple of times and I had never met this man before. I replied, “Yes, I am.” He went on to share with me that his family had prayed for mine over the last four years as the Lord brought us to mind. “Ma’am…at least once a month we are encouraged to lift you and your family up to the Lord.” Of course, I stood there in a puddle of tears, overwhelmed by God’s grace in our lives.
I shared my story and idea with this man asking him if he thought it would be possible to add stones to my ring. Originally, I wanted emeralds in my wedding ring, but we chose not to add the extra expense as a young couple—we would do this later on. He said he would look into the possibility and let me know when I came back to pick up the ring.
I received a call, “Mrs. Apon, I have a thought on your wedding ring. I took your idea to add stones to your band to other businesses in the area, sharing your story with them. Several business owners have chosen to join together to have eight emeralds added to your ring. This will be a gift from the Lord.” I was overwhelmed and humbled. He went on to add, “the ring should be ready by May 17th the date I considered my new anniversary when God became my husband.
ONLY GOD—my Husband, would care enough to give me a new wedding ring with “forever” inscribed again on it, now with a much deeper meaning. A symbol to me of His love and continued light in the darkness. I am so blessed! We all have wants, desires, and wishes. Often these are related to real needs, but many times they are not. If we feel that we are “in want” it is because a need or desire is going unmet. If a need is unmet or we are in want, we must trust God. Ultimately, God is able to meet our needs. If He chooses not to, we must trust His wisdom. God, is trustworthy and can be trusted with your forever.
Dear you, who is starting college without a dad,
Here you are at the start of a new school year but still without a daddy. I can remember going off to college like it was yesterday–the freedom of a new world opening up to me! I remember move-in day with my family and the excitement of a new chapter just about to begin. However, I also remember feeling sad because I knew my dad wasn’t experiencing it with me. He would have been so proud of my accomplishments and proud to send me off to find my way in the world. I desperately wanted him to be there with me. If I had been in control he would have been there to share in my joy and my nervousness, but God had other plans and those are the ones we must trust. Many times we make our plans then wrestle with God over His better plans. He directed and is still directing my life without a father, and I’m finding that it’s turning out to be the most beautiful story.
“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
We may never know the reasoning behind what God allows, but trust that His plan is always to bring us closer to Him and to glorify Him.
I know the idea of college without a father might be daunting. People will assume you have a dad and talk about things that you might want to stay away from. But, let them ask the questions, let them wonder where he is, and then tell them what happened. I found that the more I was willing to open up with people and talk about my father, the more I healed. God will absolutely use your story to bring Himself glory, and that’s what our life is about! Claim your story with God as Father because it is a privilege and a joy.
Another thing: If you claim to be a Christ-follower then God is upholding you with His right hand and covering you with His wings. Fact. This means that He is in complete control and is protecting you. His very nature is that of a Father. Before time began, God had Jesus Christ as His son. Father is His first name! Cling to that in every single part of your life. Tell Him about the joys in college, and how you got an A on a test you studied hours and hours for. Cry to him when you feel homesick, or when you feel like you messed up in a class or on a team. He can handle your emotions, and as your Father, He wants you to pour them on Him. You shouldn’t have to go through it alone, and who better to talk to than your Creator, Father-God. He desires to hear your voice and have a relationship with you. Don’t let that fade, okay? He’s closer than our breath and wants us to be in His presence. Allow Him to work in and through you, and know that when the times get hard…He is there.
You’re going to change a lot in college, and I am excited to hear about how God uses you as a light. We’re called to be a “city on a hill” and live in a manner that glorifies Christ, no matter what. Use your testimony of God as your Father to point others around you to Him. There are hundreds of other kids who also have a story like yours and might not know how to deal with it. Show them the secret place found in Christ and allow yourself to be used of God. In the end, we’re broken vessels and if God can use you in any way to show others Himself then every bit of hurt, sadness, missing your dad, and misunderstanding is worth it. I promise you!
I’ve had God as Father for 18 years now, and I would look you in the eyes if I could and tell you it’s worth it. Very hard, and I’m not even completely healed – but I wouldn’t change it. God is faithful, and He’s going to carry you through the next season of your life as His precious child. Let this new season of fresh beginnings allow healing to take place in your heart. It may not feel right and it may be isolating, but you are not alone on this journey.
With God as Father, you’ve got this!
I don’t know about you, but in the days of my darkest grief, words were hard to come by. In my heart, I felt every emotion imaginable, but I couldn’t quite get them out in words. Early on, listening to other people cry out to God through worship helped me to not feel quite so alone. Surely if these people could sing in their hurt, so could I! There was something so beautiful about connecting with other hurting people through song and reaffirming our trust in God—like singing a modern day Psalm.
Then there were the days when Satan would tempt me to believe that my suffering was meaningless, yea, I still have them sometimes. It was then that I would blast these songs in my car or at my house. To this day, I can still feel the truth change me through each passing chorus. Scripture is powerful like that, in the days when it was hard to focus on reading it, I would listen to it in song!
So here it is, my list of songs that I cried to, praised to, chanted to…and willed myself to believe some days! It’s a list of songs that has held me together and raised me up in my faith. So many of these words have become my battle cry over the years, and I hope they will become yours too!
This playlist is for the days when the waves of grief come crashing down again. For the days when tears are more than laughter, silence is more than words, and sorrow is more than joy. Listen and remember, you are not alone! God is with you in the valley of the shadow of death. The enemy wants you to believe a lie about your suffering today, but you do not have to! Let the healing words of scripture into your car, your home, or your headphones. Don’t be afraid to sing it or cry it out! Let’s face it, grief is inescapable, so let’s at least make it good (truth-filled) grief!
Without further ado, here it is! I pray it blesses you today!
Showing love to a widow can be scary and intimidating. Below are some things to consider as you step out of your comfort zone to be present in her pain: