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.
Every single time I open my USAA bank app it…kindly…reminds me how many days I have until tax day. In fact I just opened it and a big “55 DAYS TO GO” smacked me right in the face! I often wonder why the app makes it such a happy reminder…tax day for me is never happy! I still remember like it was yesterday the daunting feeling of filing on my own for the first time after my husband died. 55 days, 30 days, 15 days, the countdown building my anxiety one day at a time, but every time I went to take action it was like I was frozen solid, unable to file for fear that I would lose yet another bit of control I was clinging so tightly to.
So, let’s take a test to see if I am alone here. 55 DAYS TO GO!! How does that make you feel? Does it cripple you as it did me 3 years ago? Do you start to wonder where that sheet of paper was that you swore you would remember where you put it, and well, now you can’t? Are you actually going to look for it right now? I’ll wait…
Maybe it’s not your taxes that scare you. Hopefully, the Turbo Tax numbers at the top of your page are all green (meaning you get a glorious refund)! But what about the rest of the year that’s counting down in front of your very eyes? Do you trust that God has each of those days and their exact provision in mind or are you tossing and turning in the wee hours of the night counting how much life insurance you have left, how much the mortgage is going to be, how much you will be making now that just one paycheck is coming in? If so, sister, you are so not alone!
After John-Michael died it didn’t just feel like my world was spinning out of control, it was! Every job that used to be divided between two people was now my responsibility. All of a sudden, I was expected to keep it all afloat. Now if it could have been kept above water with tears that would have been good, but unfortunately my rent couldn’t be paid in tears. The impossibility of it all, grieving, trying to work, and managing finances were exactly the tools Satan had in mind to keep me so bogged down in fear that I wouldn’t be able to see the truth. The truth is that all though my world was marked by chaos and question marks, God was not out of control or confused.
Instead of letting Satan own these next 55 days, allow God to step in and show you his power, yes over your finances, but even more so over your whole life.
1. Preach the gospel to yourself every day. When you’re your anxiety over provision becomes bigger than your trust in the God of the universe, it’s a sign to you that you need to sit yourself down and consider the ravens and the lilies! What’s that you say?
“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.” Luke 12:24-30
You are more valuable to God than any of his creations. You are his child. He sacrificed everything for you and will see to it that you are provided for. And when you start to feel less than the birds and the trees turn to God and ask for him to show you that he cares. Ask him to do more than you could ever imagine. You’ll be amazed at how he comes through and how he grows your faith in the process.
2. Ask for help. I am not ignorant to the HUGE financial problems that the death of a loved one can create. God does not intend for you to face these scary times alone. After JM died, I was very transparent with my church about my financial fears, and they were able to connect me with a great financial adviser who helped carry my burden for me in the early days after loss. You will be surprised the connections people have if you are willing to humbly ask.
No matter where you are financially this tax season, I pray you are seeking God. Asking God to make you more giving with what you have and more trusting with what you don’t. He is faithful in it all.
Psalm 123:1 “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”
Imagine it’s a Friday afternoon, you just got off work and you’re making a bee-line for those plans you’ve been looking forward to all week. You click on the radio and your favorite song is just starting, so naturally you turn it up, roll down the window, stick your hand out, and cruise down the highway making waves in the air as it weaves up and down over your fingers. Pause there in your mind. It’s bliss. Besides the inevitable Friday traffic, all seems right with the world. Have you had moments or seasons of life like that? Where things are going good, I mean really really good, so much so that you pause and look to heaven to say, “Why me?” or “God, I don’t deserve this…but I accept!” Those moments are meant to be celebrated, and I think they teach us something about our God and his economy.
JM, my late husband, and I looked to heaven a lot together over the years of our relationship. Sometimes in confusion and sometimes in praise, but (mostly) always in awe that we had a God who gave us such good gifts. From the time I met him at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters camp, I remember looking to heaven and saying, “God why am I so attracted to this weirdo guy?” and he looked up with a completely different response, “This girl is smoking hot, God, and there is no way I am on her level.” (His words, not mine). We spent that summer sneakily flirting, dropping humble brags about how we were killing it with our campers, and shouting Ephesians 4:29 at each other from all over camp because I guess that’s how Christians flirt… I still laugh when I think about JM looking to heaven and begging God not to let me friend zone him because of the many nights I spent putting make-up on him for a dumb British Rock Star character that he insisted on playing every Thursday night at the camp’s rodeo. And thankfully enough for him, he found out that God was enthroned and in the details because I didn’t even know what the friend zone was.
Almost exactly one year later, we went on our first date. I am sure we both spent many nights leading up to this date looking up to heaven for guidance as we got to know each other from long-distance phone calls and texts. When the night came, we literally looked to heaven for the first time together as the small red and yellow biplane left the runway, and headed for the sky. As we held hands for the first time watching the summer sun melt into the trees behind Kennesaw Mountain, we were both reassured that God was indeed the author of more than our story, but the great story that all creation was telling. Thankful we got to participate in that is an understatement.
I remember one night in particular, September 9, 2012. I was terrified as JM asked me to take the adventure with him in becoming his girlfriend. I rattled off my list of excuses as to why I wouldn’t make a good girlfriend, and he wasn’t even phased by one of them. He had spent countless hours that summer knocking on heaven’s door to receive guidance from a God that gives to those who ask. Again that night JM led my eyes to heaven, and although we realized that it was risky business to trust in a God who is a sovereign mystery, JM reminded me that it was the best place we could be. So I said yes, yes to a journey that terrified me in all the right ways. We had no idea the path that lay before us, but hoped in a King who promised to lead his people.
Oh, and the night he proposed…there were so many moments between September 9, 2012 and that crisp November day that made me fall deeply in love with him and the God we were following. How fitting that for our final date as boyfriend and girlfriend JM would again lead us skyward. The helicopter blades whipped through Atlanta’s night sky as I sat next to him asking God how in the world I got this guy to like me. Little did I know that JM, sporting the hottest outfit I have ever seen by the way, was looking at more than the beautiful skyscrapers towering into the blackness above but looking to his God to calm his nerves, for in moments he would bend his knee to ask the girl next to him to spend forever by his side. About 30 minutes later, I had a ring on my finger and we both looked to heaven rejoicing in the fact that we got the gift of each other.
Or how about the time we looked to heaven because we had both finished college and were about to get married! We were broke, in desperate need of jobs and money, and so many other things, but boy were we content with the love that we had and the life we were making with God. We turned to God like needy kids and hoped that, like all the others times along our journey, that he would provide. And do you know, he did!
Then came July 13, 2014, the day JM and I said “I do” and vowed before God to love and serve each other until death do us part. We had no idea the commitment that we were actually making, and honestly, it’s probably best that we didn’t! On this day and in this moment in particular I remember looking to heaven with him. We had just finished our vows, placed the rings on each other’s fingers, and were singing In Christ Alone, only the kiss was left to seal the deal. In those last moments, we gazed skyward. My eyes were closed and JM’s were staring up at God, both of us praying a very similar prayer, “Christ, be our light and our song on days when loving comes easy and be our solid ground when the fiercest droughts and storms come rolling in.” Gosh, I remember our faces so clearly, his blissful glance and my sweet contentment as we accepted the greatest gift God had given us to date.
The very next day the hard work began. Marriage was fun, but it wasn’t easy, we would be the first to admit that! We looked to heaven several times a day and sometimes several times an hour asking God how to love each other better. We were selfish and clueless, but at the end of the day no matter how it had unfolded, we would look to God together before our heads sunk deep into our pillows. Even though our eyes were closed, and mine sometimes half asleep, our hearts were pointed towards the throne. We needed sanctification and grace and mercy. God came through, every time.
This year as I approach Valentine’s day, I cannot help but stare unendingly at the heavens, life was not what I expected it to be, but God has been faithful both in the past and in my present. I cannot help but think back on all those “Friday post-work drive” moments I got to have with JM, the few I had during my grief journey, and the ones that brought me to where I am now with my now husband, Alosha. There may have been traffic, but the song was just right and the wind was so fun to play in, that it didn’t matter how long it would take us to get to where we were going. That’s what I am declaring over my life today and what I pray you declare over yours. The idea is this: that we would lift our eyes to a God who gives us these beautiful, bliss-filled moments to give us a small taste of what heaven will be like. There will be stops, bumps, and maybe a few tickets along your crazy ride, but rejoice in that fact that no matter how long it takes you to get to that final destination, you will indeed get there, and it will be more awesome than any weekend plan you have ever dreamed up!
Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
A new year. A fresh start. Some of us really need that right? For some of us reading this 2018 tested the very limits of what we thought we could handle. It took us right up to the edge of our worst fears and even had the gumption to drag us a step further. It. Was. Hard. For others 2018 was a year of restoration in ways you never thought were possible after the suffering you experienced in the past. In 2018 a lot of us lost “normal” or were somewhere out there trying to find a “new normal.” But here we all are, some more tattered than others, at the doorstep of a brand new year, a clean slate, whether we like it or not.
When I rang, well actually cried, in the New Year of 2016 I remember thinking, blah blah resolutions and fresh starts and everyone all amped to have the “best year yet!” All I wanted was the past. I wanted 2011, the year I met JM, I wanted 2014, the year we got married, I wanted everything back pre September 19, 2015. Could I make it my resolution to have my life back? But as the ball dropped, the clock stuck midnight, and people all over the world kissed their way into the new year, there I was on my couch, lips unkissed, and alone with nothing left to do but resolve that 2016 would be the year I kept going.
For those of you who have gone through suffering you know sometimes the resolutions you make are simply the only choice you actually have to make…so no, I was no stronger than you when I resolved to keep walking forward, I just knew it was simply the only real option. I could have mentally disallowed 2016 to come and lived in the shadow of September 19 forever, but I knew in my spirit that’s not at all what God called me to, as his child he wanted me to keep going, because even though I couldn’t see the future, he could, and he was prepared to resolve with me that we could keep going into the new year together.
And like most resolutions, we get 5 days in, 1 month if you are the most dedicated amongst us, and we are exhausted. We start looking for all the excuses to just stay where and how we were the year before. I felt this pull too, even though I hated where I was at after losing my husband, it was still comfortable and predictable…wake up, cry, sleep, try to get life back together, fail, sleep, cry, repeat.
This is why we have to resolve with Christ, when he resolves something he brings it to fruition, every. single. time. Don’t believe it, because you can’t see it or feel it? Look at Hebrews chapter 11. “By faith Abel…,” “By faith Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Sarah, and Jacob, and Moses…” The list goes on to name every biblical figure that even non-Christians know about. “By faith” they did what God called them to do. “By faith” they offered themselves, obeyed in the hard stuff, built a stinking ship in the desert (like come on?!). “By faith” they left what was behind, their homes, THEIR NORMAL, and walked into foreign lands. Why? Because that is what God called of them. He even promised and resolved, if you trust me at this new juncture, even though it is hard, and you cannot see how you can possibly move forward or this could possibly work out, you will be blessed, you will know me more, and you will get what I promised you, life with me in abundance.
Of course there will be days when we look back and long to be in that old familiar world we used to call home, I am sure Abraham and Moses did too. I am sure at times it got really tiresome waiting for what was promised but had not yet come, especially since some didn’t even get to see the promised land with their earthly eyes. I like to think that on the days when Noah was tired of people thinking he was crazy and just wanted to be a regular guy again or when Sarah was celebrating yet another birthday without the present of a child, wishing she could be younger and maybe conceive a child, that they would take a minute to ponder on it all, life’s past pleasures and blessings, then wipe the tears from their faces and say like C.S. Lewis would later write,
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind,”
and then get back to the work of placing their faith in God! Of resolving to move forward.
When we go with God into the new year, we go with the promise that nothing will happen to us that God has not planned and that he cannot handle. Fellow sufferers, we know all too well that even though we go with God, we are not promised an easy road, but we are promised God’s presence. Like the Israelites following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as they escaped from Egypt, God’s presence will lead us in 2019. And although the path may not always be easy, we too will reach the true promised land, where suffering will be no more and each day will be more beautiful than the last. Here’s to seeing all that God will do in between, both in our lives and in others.
It took me a long time to figure out who Alex was after my husband JM died. There was a period of time where I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror (no joke). I would stare for minutes and genuinely not recognize myself, tears slowly starting to flow steadily down my cheeks. I was so lost. Lost in the grief, the tears, the funeral planning, the putting my life back together; I was only 23, and I didn’t have a clue who on earth I was.
We all know how it goes, when we are kids we are anyone the world wants (for better or worse, right?), we change with the wind and with whatever is “cool” and whichever friends we had that year. But as we get older, we start to care who we become and what we stand for, figuring out that life is HARD. I spent almost all my latter years of high school and most of college finding the real me, and somewhere in there I finally liked her and the path she had taken. Then college came to an end, I entered the “real world,” and married my best friend, JM, and legit became the best version of me…US. Of course, marriage was hard, as for all, but we were having fun defining our new roles and living life as a team of two.
On September 19, 2015, with the death of my husband, it seemed like all the figuring out I had done came crashing down on a BIG, FAT reset button, and right there, a week before my 24th birthday, I had to learn all over again. Or so I thought. My role changed but maybe, just maybe, my identity didn’t. It took several weeks to see it, but underneath all the darkness of grief, my identity was still there shaken but not destroyed. The things I had learned from God though all those formative years about who I was as a daughter of Christ and all the qualities God instilled in me through all my life’s highs and lows were there, ready to help me navigate the long road ahead. Sure, some things had to change, and they did in their own time, and eventually I found a me by remembering the old me and allowing God to shape the “new” me.
The me before my first husband—my humor, things I liked doing, and my faith in Christ. I had to remember that just because I was no longer a wife did not mean that I was no longer me. I always liked traveling, so by gosh, I could still travel, even if it was alone. After all I still had Christ.
Then it moved to relearning who I was because of my first marriage—characteristics I picked up in our marriage, like learning to not throw in the towel so quickly. New hobbies like trying every cool foodie spot we could find, and trusting God’s goodness even when I couldn’t see it (boy would that come in handy).
The last part, and probably the hardest, was learning who Alex is because of all of this, the death, the life after, and even one day remarriage (a WHOLE different relearning, but fun). And, if I am going to be honest, the me I found before my new husband, and after my first was the best me. It hurt immensely finding her, but God was creating her all along the freaky, bumpy road. People who are in Christ don’t get lost in their grief, at least not permanently. Changing roles is never easy, but if we cling to our identity as Christ’s child who is loved and not forsaken, though we change a LOT, we don’t get lost.
Grief is a journey of truly finding and rooting your identity in Christ, not in a husband, not in tears, not in Alex the widow, not in remarriage, but in Christ. It’s taking the longings I have to see my first soul mate (even still) and saying, “God what do you want these longings to make of me.” If we don’t give them to Christ, they will literally rule our life, and we will never be able to move forward into what God has for us still on this earth. I had to learn that the role of Alex, as JM’s wife, was not identity, so that I could be okay when my role changed, which it inevitably will in many ways over my life. Of course, I still miss him, but as time passes, and as God gives me the grace to be content and then even elated again, my longings have become a tool to help me keep going and not one that stops me.
It all just takes time. There will be so many hard moments where all you can be is sad, confused, and more sad, but eventually, if you keep clinging to Christ, that does break away and opens you to be the “new you,” and really keep living with purpose and life. I have never been so content and that’s not because nothing hurts anymore. It’s because when I thought I was permanently broken, God was with me, bringing beauty from the ashes, giving purpose to the pain.
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!
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?
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.