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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Better Sacrifice

Earlier this week, I was sharing with two of my grandchildren about having teachable spirits and of being obedient to God’s Word in their young lives. I’ve always said that if a person doesn’t have a teachable spirit then a life of struggle and disobedience awaits them. our decisions will bring either blessing or chaos. My prayer for myself, my adult children, their mates, and my grandchildren is that we will have teachable spirits and seek to be obedient to God and His Word.

This morning as I was reading my Bible, following a two-year plan to read the Bible through in that time period, I found the principle of being obedient and teachable versus being disobedient and prideful. Genesis 4 gives the account that Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of flocks and Cain was a tiller of the ground, a farmer if you will. Both fully respectable jobs, both approved by the Creator. However, the problems began with the required sacrifice. They were to worship with these sacrifices. While it isn’t specifically spelled out here in Genesis, Hebrews 4 suggests there was to be a blood sacrifice. It speaks of the faith of Abel and his obedience to God in his worship. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that it was counted as righteousness to Eve’s second son. Cain’s sacrifice was not so. He brought his best but not what God asked. Obedience vs Disobedience, faith vs unbelief, relationship vs religion.

As I contrasted the life of Simon Peter, I saw that he was zealous for His Lord, cocky, and prideful. Matthew accounts the time that Jesus was revealing to His disciples what was ahead for Him. Peter, in his impulsiveness, declared that would never happen. Jesus gave a harsh rebuke, saying that satan was using this disciple. In fact, he used the strong words, “Get thee behind me, satan!” Not too long after this, Peter declared his undying love and faithfulness to the Savior, saying he would never stumble, even if the everyone else did. It was then that the Lord looked at him and told him that before morning, Peter would deny the Him three times. The sad thing was, he did.

The difference in Cain and in Peter was that Peter had that teachable spirit. He learned a valuable lesson. After His resurrection, Jesus spoke specifically to the disciple, asking him three times if he loved Him, giving him his ministry with each answer. (I wonder if asking him three times had any significance since Peter had denied Christ three times?) I believe Peter’s sin brought grief and repentance. Jesus’ questions to him in love provoked answers from obvious humility. Simon Peter was no longer arrogant and prideful, but meek. He exemplified a teachable spirit. The Lord’s commandment to him was to give his life to shepherding the flock of Jesus, feeding, nourishing, preaching and teaching, even if it meant a martyr’s death, which it did.

Saul disobeyed God by not destroying the Amalekites and everything they had, and  keeping their king, Agag, alive and even taking their plunder. He then offered a sacrifice to God from the plunder. Total disobedience. Samuel told him that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” I wonder if we halfway obey and then attempt to bring our pitiful offerings to God?

We can only be obedient from the heart as we crawl upon the altar and surrender our lives to God daily. It is from the abiding relationship with Jesus that we can experience true obedience and worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper and Bows

As I am wrapping presents this morning, my heart and mind are flooded with sweet memories.  I measure and cut the pretty paper I’ve chosen for this year with satisfaction. It takes me several trips up and down the designated aisles at Hobby Lobby to choose just the right paper, being oh, so careful, not to use the same as the year before. The ribbon must match perfectly. I’m a bow maker. The wrapping will envelope gifts I’ve bought for those I love. This year is a red and gold theme, with the names of Jesus on it. I really like it and hope the recipients will as well. 

I’m remembering Christmases past and a slideshow runs through the years. Our first Christmas, Bob surprised me with an engagement ring. I’ll never forget that night when he pulled it out of his pocket. For once, I was speechless! On Christmas morning he drove from Knoxville, after seeing his niece open Santa gifts. I didn’t expect anything else from him but he came in bearing gifts. Unwrapping the packages I discovered a beautiful yellow sweater and skirt. It was the most beautiful outfit I had ever had. There was also a bracelet and a few other trinkets. He spoiled me, as he did for the next forty-five years. 

I think of our children and the fun we had putting toys in layaway so we could chip away at the price of their presents. I see Christmas Wish Books all over the floor and little eyes big with anticipation of what the jolly man in the red suit would leave under the tree. I’m also reminded of the nights with no sleep as Bob assembled bicycles, Matchbox garages, Barbie Houses, and trains. I hear the whispers from the children’s bedrooms as they jump out of bed, declaring to the other, that it was finally Christmas morning. 

As the pictures run through my mind, I remember so much more. Bob would sneak in with packages for me and instruct me not to dare go into his office until after Christmas. He would try to outdo me with gifts. Sometimes I would outdo him but not generally. Again, he spoiled me. 

Our last Christmas together was so special. The family was gathered and there was laughter, food, fun, and giving. We even took a picture of the family, something we didn’t generally do for the chaos of paper and presents everywhere. I wouldn’t take anything for it. We had no idea it was the last one and in less than four months our husband, daddy, Papa, and friend would be in heaven. 

This is the third Christmas without him and it’s still difficult. Things have changed so much. It just isn’t the same. There will be fewer gifts under the tree this year…a fixed income prohibits more. One of our sons and his family won’t be with us because it’s not possible for them to travel home for the holidays. Then, there’s the empty chair around the tree…the straight-back kitchen chair that Bob would always take so we would have the more comfortable seating. That’s the way he was, sacrificing in even the little things, so we would have the best. 

Bowing to God’s Sovereignty isn’t always easy, but I choose to do that today. It’s sometimes a moment-by-moment choice. I choose to be thankful for the blessing of good memories with my sweet man, and the forty-six Christmases we shared. I’m thankful for our family, for the love we have for each other, and the good times around the tree and table. I laugh at the memory of a box of garbage bags that Bob would have, ready to pass them out for all the discarded paper and ribbon. I “hear” him say to make sure nothing of value was thrown away. My family knows exactly what I’m talking about. I’m sure they are smiling, too. 

The things that are meaningful can’t be tossed in a garbage bag. The value of family, of dear friends, of precious memories, all hold a special place in the treasure chest of the heart. I pray our minds go beyond paper and bows to a cradle with the most valuable Gift ever given, wrapped in cloth and hay. Even more than that, may our eyes look beyond a stable to the Cross. It’s why He was born…to die..to save His people from their sins. That is is the true meaning of Christmas. That is our joy, our hope. Christ is born. 

THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS MY SONG

The holidays are here and I, like so many others, are acutely aware of the empty chair around the table. This is the third Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Bob and he is ever on my heart and mind.

It is somewhat easier this year…somewhat. However, the closer to Thanksgiving it gets, the heavier my heart. I’m mindful of the women (and men) who are facing that “first” in the days ahead, and heart aches for them. My memory of our first ones without Bob is a little blurred…I was still in the blessed numbness of the first year. I do remember bravely going on with Thanksgiving and Christmas as we always had, at least I fooled myself into thinking that. It will never be the same, not ever. People encouraged us to do it differently that year, to go somewhere like the mountains, or to just eat out for Thanksgiving. I wanted to be in our home, remembering the holidays past, where many would gather, to begin the healing process. No one knew quite where to sit. No one wanted to sit in Daddy’s chair, the empty chair. It was too painful for me to leave it empty, too raw, so I took my plate and sat in that sacred and beloved spot. Through the conversations around the table and the efforts my children were making for me to survive the day, I saw in my heart that tall, beautiful man who had graced my table for forty-five years. I could hear his laughter, hear him tell me how wonderful the meal was, and see him just relish everyone being together.

How in the world do families get through holidays, especially those firsts? My answer is, anyway you can. There is no formula. Grief is an individual affair. No one should advise someone as to how they personally should get through the holidays. The first two years I was unable to go to church from the week-end before Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Before I’m criticized for that, let me say that our entire life together was built around the church, in ministry together. The memory of countless services singing, “We Gather Together” and the Christmas Eve Candlelight services are cherished by me but to experience them alone was more than I could handle. Our life was ministry, ministry in the local church as well as overseas. My heart couldn’t take it.

Will I be able to go this year? I don’t know, I thought I did. Standing in church this morning brought a sadness that is hard to explain. It was a bittersweet time. We sang and the tears began to flow. The songs we sang were all the ones we sang in our church just three years ago. My heart saw so many familiar things…a church family, a worship ministry family I loved so much. I saw my husband worshipping in sweet abandon to the One he now sees by sight. Quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could stay in the service, but I’m glad I did.

At the last minute, our pastor had to call upon the youth leader to preach and you know how it is when you see someone is to preach besides the pastor? But, the young man was right on…I needed to hear from God through him. His sermon was entitled, “The Song I Sing.” His text was from Psalm 146. He asked a question in the beginning, “What song do you sing?” One of his points was that the birthplace of our song is the soul and that dominates the message of our song. He went on a few minutes and said we might say that the past 12-24 months of our lives may have been so difficult that no one, No one on earth, could help us in our need. He made a statement that resonated in me, “It is in those moments that our song is written.”

What has my song been? What is the chorus that continues to rise between the verses that have been so very hard to sing? In that moment, I remembered what I had sung just a few moments before,”…You are Shield, my Strength, my Portion forever; my Shelter, Strong Tower, my very Present Help in time of need.” This has been one of my favorite worship songs for years but the truth in those lyrics today are so much more meaningful than when I sang them before. I would sing them when my world was right, secure. When I could look around at my worship ministry family as we sang together, at my family as they joined the many friends around us. I sang with my precious husband and all seemed right side up. Now, my world had never righted itself and the familiar faces have dimmed and nothing is the same. The one thing that HAS remained is the faithfulness of my Father in heaven, and the security and peace I find in Him.

The holidays may very well be different but He is the same…yesterday, today, and forever. He sees me and cares for me as a Shepherd to His sheep. I am His own and that is one thing that will never change. This is the song I sing, this is my story.

 

(The sermon this morning will be able to be heard in the next couple of days at http://www.nbconline.net, under the media resources.)