Posture In Grief

After teaching a lesson on Job last night I couldn’t get some of the truths in the first two chapters out of my mind. I then thought of so many friends who have experienced loss since I lost my husband three years ago. Studying to teach the class on grief has helped me on my journey, even after three years and four months. I decided to share a little of the points. Maybe my friends will be encouraged. 

First of all, feelings are valid. The stages of grief are evident in  those who mourn. I believe we see great emotion in Job as he grieves. After God allowed him to be stricken with great loss, he still trusted God. 

You know the story.  Job was a blameless man (not perfect) and he walked with God. He knew his God, he trusted his God. He was known and respected among the people in his community, a leader, a teacher. Job was a benevolent man and helped others. A good and Godly man, yet he lost it all. He lost his  livestock from lightening, his servants from the sword, his house from a tornado, and his ten children when the collapsing house fell on him. 

Job’s response was opposite what we would think. As custom would have it, he tore his clothes and shaved his head, symbolizing grief. He then fell to the ground…and worshipped, symbolizing his trust in his Jehovah. Think about that, worshipping when he had lost everything. Job was able to worship because God had proved himself faithful in his life over and over. Job had experienced a remarkable relationship with a remarkable Father for many years. He said this, “I came into this world with nothing and I’ll leave with nothing. The LORD give and he takes away. Blessed (a word of adoration and praise) be the name of the Lord.” I believe Job could praise God because he recognized His authority and His sovereignty. He knew His character. He new His NAME (that’s another lesson!)

Finally, Job was stricken with boils all over his body that caused him to go outside the city and sit among the ashes. The blameless, renowned, kind man sat where lepers sat, scratching his boils with pieces of broken pottery. What a dichotomy between what had been and what was. 

I had never connected Isaiah 61:3 with Job. This verse says, “…He (God) will give (those who mourn) beauty for ashes…”. The Hebrew word for ashes in Isaiah 61 is the same word in Job. I thought how, as we sit in the ashes of our grief, God promises to bring beauty from this season. Our lives can never be what they once were. We’ve lost someone we loved very much. We will, however, find a new life, a new normal, and even begin to find satisfaction and gladness, as did Job. 

The verse in Isaiah says God will “….provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of HIS glory.”  For GOD’S glory! That’s the purpose for it all. 

The key to Job’s response was his heart. He suffered loss, he had great grief, but he trusted and bowed his knee to the purpose of his God. For those of us who mourn, may we, too, trust Jehovah. May our posture be that of a surrendered heart and great trust. 

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Clean Closets and Fresh Starts

Before school began each year, I would do a thorough sweep through my kids’ rooms (just ask them!) After all, you can’t start school with messy closets and old school supplies that were thrown in the back of the closet on the last day of school the previous year. Outgrown clothes were removed from drawers and closets and lists made of what was needed for the new year.  Alway, always new socks, backpacks, and supplies from the list the teachers gave. It was a fresh start, a new year. No grades were yet in the teacher’s grade book, new goals  could be set. There was anticipation over the next 181 days as they would walk into the school building in their newly purchased and clean tennis shoes. 

Today, I once again girded my loins for a morning of much the same, only it was with my grandson. He said he had cleaned out everything a few days ago when I sent him to do the task. I guess one person’s trash is another’s treasure! We began to take one area of the room at a time, beginning with his closet. Whoa! 

It was nostalgic to go through his authentic World War II army trunk that had been a family member’s during that time. We began pulling out old papers, broken toys, pieces to games, and all kinds of evidence that a  boy inhabited this home. Little by little we emptied the shelves above the clothes rack and trash bags were filled, donated things were in another bag, and the outside garbage can held the things Wes had harbored, even though he didn’t need them any longer.  The room was left in order, clean, ready for the new. 

I couldn’t help but think how we are so much like this in our spiritual lives. Little things pile up and before we know it, what once was treasured had been thrown into the back of our hearts. Thing like seeking that intimate walk with Christ, and making Him a priority. We neglect the Word, hurry through our prayer time, look inward more than outward, and fail to see opportunities to serve God out of the abiding life we have neglected. It is through the Holy Spirit we are reminded to look deep into the closet of our deepest part and rid ourselves of the debris to make room for a work of renewal in our lives. Often, too much time has passed since we took inspection and we are broken. It is then the Lord picks up the pieces and makes all things new. 

Monday morning I will watch two of my three grandchildren walk into the school building to begin their last year of middle school (it seems I just took them to kindergarten.)  My prayer for them is that their lives will be clean with the washing of the Word and that they will reflect the One who loves them above anyone else. 

A new year, a new beginning. Let’s do this!

He Has Made Me Glad

This is a short blog today. In fact, it’s been awhile since I blogged, for reasons that don’t really matter. 

A few months back, maybe even a year ago, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me through a word in the Word, about gladness, about being glad. The particular verse He used was in the Psalms. It spoke of God making us glad. Now, I KNEW that! I had read that scripture too many times to count. 

I asked Him to make me glad again because my gladness had left. My joy was gone. My circumstance, the death of my husband and best friend, had plummeted me into the abyss of grief and mourning. Gladness, joy, happiness weren’t  in my vocabulary. It is understandable how such a life-changing, heartbreaking event can rob us if the happiness we once had. Grief is a peculiar thing. But this blog isn’t about grief. 

Reading in the Psalms this morning in the order I read them, I saw a theme in Psalm 40:16, Psalm 70:4, and even in Psalm 100. Psalm 40:16 says, “Let all who SEEK You REJOICE and be GLAD in You; Let those who LOVE Your salvation say CONTINUALLY,The Lord be MAGNIFIED.” The other two Psalms (as do many more) say the same. 

As I’m meditated on this scripture, I am impressed with a few things. Gladness and happiness, joy, comes from one place, and that is, seeking. Joy and gladness only come from a choice to seek the Lord. I looked up the Hebrew for gladness. It means EXCEEDING gladness; mirth, gaiety, joy of God. It’s also praising and magnifying the Father for Who He is. He is God. He is the great I Am. 

I can trust Him. He is Sovereign and allows nothing to come into my life that isn’t to fulfill His purpose in me. When I choose (don’t you love and sometimes hate that word?) to recognize Him and love Him, to magnify Him, and be GLAD in Him, I find my perspective changes. It’s off of me and onto Him. Even tragic circumstances are viewed differently. 

So, when I ask for gladness, I must choose to be glad in the One Who is, Who was, and is to come. Do I still grieve the loss of my husband? Absolutely! Do I have hard days? You bet. I’ve realized that I must let God make me glad as I am choosing to be glad in my heart, all because of Him. 

It’s about focus, choice, attitude, and praise. It’s all about Him. 

I guess this wasn’t so short after all!!

Closets and Spring Cleaning

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep does for a person. I love Friday nights, especially when it is the week my housekeeper comes and I have nothing pressing the next morning. You know the Friday nights when you crawl into freshly laundered sheets, turn off the phone, and sleep? Then, second to that is a lazy spring morning, the kind where a second cup of coffee is enjoyed on the patio and you try to decide what you will do that day. Bliss! 

I felt so good today that I decided to tackle my closet that holds my spring and summer clothes. I’m fortunate enough to have two walk-in closets in my big bathroom. I use one for winter clothes and one, as I’ve said, for summer clothes. I knew I had to do what I had to do, that is, get rid of or store outgrown clothes. You know the ones? Those you MIGHT get into again?

Before my husband died I had lost 40 lbs. Some of those clothes were still in the closet, pushed back, “just in case”.  Eating hospital fast food and eating out of loneliness after the fact made for another size of clothing. This, I’m folding and putting away what I hope to wear again and giving the rest away. 

As I’ve been folding and sorting, I’ve remembered how much Bob liked certain pieces of my wardrobe. It’s hard to put those away. Then, I came across the outfit I wore to the funeral. I was never able to wear it again. I’ve carefully put those aside for storage. Then there was that moment when I reached back in the very back of the closet and my hands rested upon a shirt and a sweater of Bob’s that I kept. I’d forgotten about them being back there. I buried my head in the shirt that he last wore, never bringing myself to laundry it. It still smells like him. That brought a familiar feeling, a comfort. 

This morning, I had mentioned to a friend during a phone conversation, that I just sensed a nearness of Bob. It was not a sad feeling but a sweet one. I don’t understand all I know about that, but it was there all the same. Finding his shirt, I realized I didn’t have negative or heartbreaking emotions, just peace, love for my man, and the knowledge that all is well. 

A sweet friend made a statement this week, after facing a possibly serious health issue, that nothing mattered because the tomb is empty. I thought about that a lot during the week and this morning, the day before Easter, that it is indeed true. Because it is empty, we hope not in things seen but unseen. No health issue, not even the death of a spouse has victory over the believer. Jesus has risen, the grave is overwhelmed, death has no sting. 

Someone asked me today if I ever wondered what Easter is like for Bob now. My reply was that every day was Easter in heaven because he is with the resurrected Christ. He loved Him on earth and loves Him even more today.  So, on this Easter weekend, as I fold clothes and clean out a neglected closet, I marvel at the love of God and gives thanks for an empty tomb. 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Sunday Sky and Life

A woman who just lost her husband a matter of days ago, asked me if the pain gets any easier. I had to stop and consider that question, or rather my answer. I’m asked this often and there are times when I do the asking. 

In all honesty, I would have to say yes and no. Grief is different for everyone. We cannot truly define it nor can we set a time limit on it. If you have read my bogs about my journey, you’ve read my words that grief is like a slinky. It takes any direction it chooses. For some, it is almost debilitating while for others it is easier to move forward at a faster pace. 

 Elisabeth Kubler Ross discusses her theory on the five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying. In thinking about those stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), I believe these are legitimate emotions when faced with a terminal illness or death. However, I know there is often the mistaken belief that the stages are in  succession. Not true. Grief is not linear, it’s a slinky. Any one stage switches places with the other or rears its head at unexpected times. 

Back to the question my friend asked me, does it get any easier. In my own experience, I have to say easy isn’t exactly the word I would use. Grief takes on a new face with each day, week, month, and year. There are triggers to overwhelming sadness. It might be a smell, a song, a flower beginning to bloom. The other day I was in the store looking for chow chow and saw the brand Bob liked. I immediately reached for it and, without thinking, told my grandson that Papa would be so happy I found it. Before the sentence completely left my mouth, I remembered and began to cry right there in Kroger. It’s this kind of thing that hits me. That’s normal, evenafter three years. 

There are other times that generate hurt, such as  birthdays, holidays, and the anniversary of the passing of our loved one. What are we supposed to do at these times? Survive. Do what is necessary to get through them, whether that is to throw a party or go to bed. The important thing is to get out of bed the next day and live. Find the new normal. Easy? No. But necessary. 

Some of the best advice I received after Bob’s homegoing came from my son, Robert. Every night he would ask me what I was doing the next day. If I didn’t have a plan, he would tell me to name three things I could do. Just three. That could be walking around the neighborhood or going to lunch with a friend. It might be sitting in the park or walking around Walmart, but I needed a plan. Did I want to work the plan? No! I wanted to hide in the house we shared, but that wouldn’t have been healthy. My son also told me to take two steps, stop and breath, then take two more steps. Simple? Not really. My husband and I were so close that I often said that when he inhaled I exhaled. Perhaps that was why I found it hard to breathe, and still do at times. 

This next week will be one of “those” more difficult times for our family, as the anniversary of Bob’s death is in a few days. April 9 will always be painful to some degree. I will always remember. So will you. There is a heaviness in my heart and an emptiness that no one on earth can fill. 

I look outside this beautiful morning and see life. Green trees, flowers of every color, birds singing, and a deep blue sky. What a lovely reminder that life goes on. Easter is in just two weeks and we will remember the resurrection following the death of the Savior. One day, we, too, will rise because death is defeated and there is hope. For the believer, death is just the beginning. Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “…for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Bob use to translate that, “…for me to live is Christ and to die is more Christ.”  To know and believe this gets me through this journey. 

Yes, it gets easier to walk through life without the one we loved, it’s doable. I will say that time doesn’t heal but the Father does. The Psalmist said that He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds. My prayer for all of us who grieve is that we will find strength and healing as we take two steps and breathe, and look with anticipation, for a brand new day. 

Soaring With Purpose

It’s a beautiful spring morning at my house. I even have the patio doors open, enjoying the sunshine as I’ve been reading my Bible and getting ready to start my day. The birds are singing, conversing with nature and each other. It’s hard to imagine on this perfect morning that dangerous storms will soon blow in. The weather report says that we are in a “red alert” status. 

In the last few minutes I’ve been meditating on Philippians 1:12. I guess you could say that the Apostle Paul was in a red alert situation. He was in jail! In fact, Paul was no stranger to bondage and shackles. I find it interesting, and convicting, that Paul said, “…my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…”  What an attitude in his storm! What a lesson in that one statement. 

As I think about that this morning, I wonder if that is my desire, that any circumstance I’m in can result in a greater progress for the gospel of Jesus Christ? When we are shackled to chains of situations we may have no control over, or even some we might have caused, are we willing to be there if it means the Christ is seen?

What do our prisons look like? Do the plaques over the cells say things like, death? The physical death of someone dear or the death of a relationship, again, something which we had no control over? Death of a marriage in divorce when that was the last thing ever dreamed of when vows were spoken? Death of career, of financial security, death of dreams? Death of life as it was and death of a presumed future? Death of a ministry, death of the possibility of a family you always dreamed of? All very painful, sometimes overwhelming, and it feels as though the walls of our circumstances are closing in. 

When life came crumbling down for me and I lost so many things I held dear, I believe my attitude was somewhat like Paul’s. I wanted God to be glorified in my life and the storms I was in to be a means of the gospel to go forth. I’ve had to ask myself this morning (or maybe the Holy Spirit has) if that is still my desire. I fear I often slip into the trap of looking at the chains rather than the end result. My eyes are lifted to the plaques over my cell and see only the sadness and pain. When I do this, I am indeed imprisoned without purpose. There is true freedom in proper focus and liberty in the song I sing. I just have to determine what I want the lyrics and melody to be. I must choose to soar beyond my circumstances. So do we all. 

I’ve always loved a little poem by Madame Guyon. I will end my thoughts with it. It’s called,

A LITTLE BIRD AM I

Oh! It is good to soar.
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore Whose providence I love;
And in Thy mighty Will to find The joy, the freedom of the mind.

Nought have I else to do;
I sing the whole day long;
And He, whom most I love to please, Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing, But still He bends to hear me sing.

Thou hast an ear to hear;
A heart to love and bless;
And, though my notes were e’er so rude, Thou would’st not hear the less;
Because Thou knowest as they fall.
That LOVE, sweet love, inspires them all” 

My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But, though my wing is closely bound, My heart’s at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control the flight, the freedom of the bound.
Oh! It is good to soar.
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore Whose providence I love;
And in Thy mighty Will to find The joy, the freedom of the mind.”

Somewhere in Time

It’s the middle of March and there are lots of days that are remembered during this month. There is the “Ides of March”on the 15th, not a good day for Julius Caesar!  There is St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th, where all is green and leprechaun’s and four-leaf clovers are displayed everywhere. Nestled between these two dates is March 16, the most important of any day in March, at least in my heart. On March 16, 1969, I married the most wonderful man, my Prince Charming, as I so often refer to him. That day in my memory is not of leprechauns or Caesar, but of a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon, filled with a white gown and blue bridesmaid’s dresses, roses, and wedding cake.

Never did we consider that we wouldn’t celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary together. We would often joke about the big trip we would take on our 50th, declaring it would be filled with golden memories that would carry us through the rest of our days. It’s funny how we take things for granted. Looking back over the forty-five anniversaries we shared, each was marked with gifts and cards, trips and romantic dinners. Our last one together was our 45th, just three years ago. We spent it in the hospital but it is precious to me. Bob  wanted me to tell every nurse or hospital worker that came into his room, our story. I have the anniversary card that our daughter brought him and he was only able to scratch his name. It is so dear to me. He never, ever failed to give me a card on our special day.

This third anniversary without him is a little “easier” than the other two. I’ve gone on with my life, and this week I’ve sometimes forgotten the elephant in the room…the calendar. I know that with every passing year it will be easier to smile in remembrance and not feel the bittersweet cloud over me. Today has been hard, thus this post. It isn’t unusual or morbid to remember, even to cry. It would, however, be wrong to allow this day, or any other day without Bob, to control me. It would be dysfunctional if I lived in the past or refused to walk in the present or didn’t step into tomorrow.

I’ve talked to many widows since I became one. We all share some common responses to this season we are in. One is not knowing where we really fit in in our solo life. I’m personally doing well, I guess. I’m slowly getting involved in my church, getting to recognize faces, getting more use to being a “pew” person, not a pastor’s wife. Sometimes, though, I stop and look around and wonder how in the world I got here. When did life take such a drastic turn, and would I ever cease to feel so incredibly lonely in a room full of people or sitting in my living room? I look in the mirror and see someone looking back at me I don’t recognize. Crows feet and grey hair mock my thoughts of youth.

There was a time when life was simple. The garage held two cars, two recliners sat in our den, both sides of the bed were slept in, and one of the double sinks in the bathroom held an electric razor. My side of the closet was always somewhat disorganized and one side was neat and orderly with hangers all hanging just so-so. In the kitchen, a mug from Amsterdam, coffee stained and chipped, sat beside the coffee pot or in his special spot in the cabinet. Two kinds of K-cups were in the coffee carousel, one medium roast, one strong upon strong! His Bible and prayer journal were always on his chest of drawers, now mine is the only one there.

I prefer the double life but that isn’t how it is, or how it was planned. I do rest in that, bow to God’s design, for Bob as well as myself. Nothing in our lives is a surprise to God, so why would I be surprised when life takes a turn I might not have counted on or wanted? He is a good, good Father. I’m learning many things on this journey. I’m learning to be deeply grateful for the 45 years God gave us to be married. I’m thankful for His grace in my life to give me such a wonderful man to love and to know the kind of love Bob had for me. I’m learning to take every day to hear God and, as best I know, follow Him. I’m learning to pour my heart out to Him when I am the loneliest for my husband and to dance even in the rain. Some days I fail to do that but that is my desire.

So, on Thursday, March 16, I will remember a day in time when I was blessed beyond measure to become the bride of a prince. I will seek the face of my Prince of Peace when my heart is lonely for him, and sing when I don’t know the words to the song. And, who knows, I might even dance!