Thursday, July 13, 2017

Do you deserve to be happy?

What do you deserve? Deserve means to be worthy of, to be entitled to, to have a right to.  There is a current song by Little Big Town that says "we all deserve to be happy while we're here." Why? Why are you entitled to happiness? Where is this written? The Founding Fathers seemed to understand happiness wasn't an entitlement. They said we had the right to *pursue* it, not that we deserved it.

Our culture programs us to equate happiness to the material pleasures, sexuality and other bodily gratification. Choose the right partner with the right actions to stroke your ego and you'll be happy. Do this activity and you will be happy. Buy these clothes, cars, gadgets, etc, and you will be happy. Marriages are destroyed and families are broken because we look for other people to make us happy and when they don't, we abandon ship and create ripples of unhappiness for others as that ship sinks. How many children are damaged by divorce and fighting because their happiness was secondary to the egos or material needs of their parents?  We teach them that other people are expendable if they don't gratify our selfish desires. We teach them that obtaining material things is crucial to finding joy. Pursuing money to gain material goods becomes more important than time rearing children, making memories with spouses, and even proper rest.  The idea that happiness comes from "entertainment" leads to time spent in emptiness and immorality, opening the door to more temptation and destruction of the values and people who are truly important  There is so much ugliness that tends to accompany the concept that we "deserve" to be happy. Throw in the concept of being entitled to it and a blind eye is turned to the negative until far too much damage is done.

The Bible tells us this, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." and Psalm 144:15b "Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!" Godliness is the key to happiness - and being content, not constantly looking for more and more, but being satisfied is profitable. One way I can see right off the bat that it is profitable is because you aren't striving, striving, striving to have things or a movie-perfect marriage.  When you are looking at and truly appreciating the things you have, you can build upon them. Try gratitude. Seek contentment.

Philippians 4:12 - 13  "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Luke 12:15 "Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”"

Psalm 37:3-4 3 "Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Monday, July 10, 2017

A message from beyond...

My friend, Sherie, lost her mom the day before Patrick, passed. I was trying to figure out if she felt the same sensation I did (that I also discussed with my daughter, Erin, this morning). I said:
"Do you feel the void more strongly now that it is one year? I feel like being in the same physical place in the solar system where we were when going through the trauma of it all someone intensifies the feeling. Like a rock thrown in a pool of water sends out strong ripples. It's ...
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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Where my strength comes from...

If there is one thing I can say about what has gotten me through this past year since Patrick left this world, it is this from Nehemiah 8:10: "The joy of the Lord is my strength." Strength is the quality or state of being strong - well, what is strong?  To be strong is to have the power to move heavy weights and/or to withstand great force or pressure. And what is joy? It is delight, great pleasure, happiness. "Of" expresses a relationship or a connection between a part and a whole. When I say the" joy of the Lord" has been my strength, I'm not talking about a crutch that I lean on (that is a support), a cushion when I fall (a soft landing), an insulator (to keep bad things out), or a piece of armor (He does arm us mightily). When I say the "joy of the Lord is my strength" I'm talking about POWER. Defining "is" is hard, but it is a state of active being. This, strength, this power, is of God. It is a happiness that flows like liquid steel into the fiber of my being from the mighty God who created the universe. It is power to be more than an overcomer in Christ.

Over a year ago, my cousin who went to be in glory last week, Monica, and I had a conversation about this. This was before my husband passed, before her daddy passed away. We had both been both challenged and afflicted by those who challenged our beliefs, who came against that joy with a radiating sort of negativity.  She told me that she had learned that she was *never* going to let anyone or anything steal her joy. She wasn't going to stifle that joy of the Lord no matter what and joy was like a fountain spewing forth from her. I think everyone she came in contact with it was touched.  Her joy was that "joy of the Lord" and she wasn't hiding it from anyone. What a testimony she gave as she walked in that joy. We had some similar challenges and shared some prayers concerns - and in a discussion about those things back in December she reminded me we were "Walking by faith not by sight!"  It was a proud moment, indeed, when this woman who shone her light so brightly told me she was proud of me for "pushing ahead even in my grief."

It is one thing to get through the battle unscathed but why settle for merely making it through each day? .Romans 8:37 tells us we are MORE than conquerors. A conqueror prevails, defeats and masters.  Just absorb the rest ---
Romans 8:38-39 "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A friend of my cousin's shared this quote from John Piper, "Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have."   This past year has seen a lot of weeping and grief, but there have been many reasons to smile and rejoice. When God took Pat home, He did not take His joy from me.  If anything,  He poured me some more and taught me how to better access it.  He taught me how precious every single day is and to embrace this life. So while this is bound to be a difficult week of reflecting on the the anniversary of the  loss of my husband, the recent loss of my uncle, and the fresh loss of my cousin full of Sonshine, the Lord has given me blessings to remind me that I am well-cared for.  As Monica would say with confidence, they took the glory train. They are in His presence now - but as for us, nothing can separate us from His love.

The joy of the Lord is, indeed, my strength.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dear Pat...

Dear Pat,

It has been 11 and a half months since my world completely changed. My whole world *was* you and the life we created together -  our children, our routines, our rituals. Getting up each day with you beside me and going to bed each night in each other's arms. July 3, 2017 seemed like any other day. We went to church, we had lunch, we looked at furniture and laughed because there was not a single thing we liked. We joked about being the hippies our kids thought we were and just having bean bags and the exercise ball. You did your yard work while I wrote yet another paper for my graduate degree. Without warning, July 3 became the last normal day.

I miss you - that is a given. There is no denying that not a single day goes by without thoughts of you, without shock and wonder that this state of existence without you isn't really just a terrible dream. Wendy and I were talking the other day about how it is simply unfathomable. Some days it seems like you are really just here, maybe outside tinkering in the yard, or upstairs napping. Other days the horrible hole left in this life by your passing becomes a yawning chasm impossible to cross.

How have I dealt with your passing? I've done what I always do. I've sucked it up; I've kept a stiff upper lip. I've done what has to be done. Oh, I've certainly broken down and howled, bawled, sobbed, and screamed. I've tried to do that in privacy but there have been many times where the tears rolled freely and I couldn't stop them. Regardless, I've made it a point to keep moving forward. Survival. That's been the name of the game. Because really -what other choice is there?

My mother always said, "Don't cry over spilled milk. Clean it up." Well, losing you is far, far, FAR more than spilled milk. However, the sentiment still fits regardless of whether other people don't "get it." Staring at my loss and wallowing in it would do nothing at all to get me from sunrise to sunset, day in and day out. It certainly wouldn't make me feel any better in the long run. So with no other option, I've surveyed life on each given day, made a mental inventory of my needs/wants and sought to meet whatever each day required of me.

I had accepted a job before your death that, while very rewarding, does not pay well at all.We both prayed and felt so right about this job.   Knowing I couldn't live on that income, I began a side job that would cover my health insurance costs. Now I have another side job that will further supplement my income. You would be very happy with God's blessing me with the ability to do what I love - teaching language arts and more exercise classes (as long as they didn't take time away from you). There are things that would not make you happy: the adult bully who tormented me throughout the year and the fact that the exercise classes are co-ed. I can imagine your opinions and advice on both. So many times I wished I had had you to come home to and tell the stories of my day. You would have laughed so hard - that special Ernie laugh. You would have wanted to come to my classroom and meet everyone, do special things for the students. You would have loved building things for science experiments. You would also have been my knight in shining armor and my shoulder to cry on when my own Dolores Umbridge was doing her best to make my days dark.

But you are not here to be and do what I know you would. Instead I've had to face my trials in a different way, find new support, You were my "person" and I was your "person." Even when things were rocky and we were at each other's throats we always knew that we had each other. To suddenly find myself without you put me at such a loss. What we built over decades can never be recreated. I have had no choice but to find new connections, engineer a new support system.  Yet God, He has always been there - a strong tower for me to run to, a mighty fortress, my deliverer.

And then there are your children - they miss you so much. You were a rock, a steady, immovable rock. They could count on you being there - for a laugh, for a hand, for a strong shoulder. We were all so blinded by our own grief, but I really expected better of myself. I was so consumed by my loss of you that I wasn't the nurturing mother I should've been to help them deal with theirs. It is so hard to be the mother when you want to be mothered yourself. That's a whole other ball of wax - not having my mom and my dad at a time when I want so badly to run to them, pour out my sorrows and have their support.  When I started coming out of my own fog and seeing everyone else's struggles, it was mind-boggling, guilt-riddling and awful on numerous levels. It isn't my place to write here about their stories - but I know that they would give anything for the strong, loving hands of their Daddy on their shoulders and embracing them in a huge bear hug.

I went to your grave this morning - our anniversary. Thinking about how one year ago you were here, taking the day off from work while I was substituting at Biomed. We had plans to celebrate our anniversary in July, after Jenna's baby was born. You had a big surprise for me when I came home. You had cleaned out the back bedroom, set up bunk beds for the grandchildren, fixed the ceiling fans, and set up toys. You were so proud to show me this - you had me close my eyes and then revealed it to me.  Here it is, one year later, and your body is in the grave. I miss you so much.

How can this be? We are 15 days away from that dreaded one year anniversary. Six days away from the night the week from hell began. I've been living without your hugs, without your kisses, without your loving texts and phone calls, without your warm, snuggly body for 350 days. I asked, how can this be? It doesn't really matter, does it? Because it *is* and there is no changing it.  Abject acceptance is the only recourse.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

From back in October and February...

Teetering on the edge
Of loss
And on the brink of being found
Heart - broken
but not shattered
But willing to mend
Could be that
Leads to flight
Or sinking to
It's all in where the balance
Is lost
Whether it is a slip backwards
Or a leap of faith

There is just us
Your hand in mine
No past
No history
our skin touching
Our breath shared
Your body, warm and solid
Against mine
No once was
No other loves
Just this love

About difficulty...

Difficult things --
I am drawn to them like
Ants to sugar
Easy holds no thrill
No satisfaction in
The lack of work
So I always
Gravitate to
That thing that doesn't
Just happen
That thing that requires
Toil and delay
Focusing on a point ahead
With sweet gratification
Just outside my reach
Or some denial of
Happiness in the now
Always striving
I tire of it
Yet I choose it every time
Like choice is not a factor
And "chose" is a word I use
Funny that this
Impatient, very impatient person
Takes the path that requires
The most patience

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Castaway Part V... Off the Island and a little bit about the Whale

Chuck Noland was stranded on a desert island - stripped down, leaned out by isolation, cut off from the life he knew and its daily rhythms.  That's what widowhood after 33 years of wedlock feels like at first. Once you lived in a marriage, suddenly you were a adrift and washed up on an unknown shore. It feels like you may never get off that island. You have moments where you almost resign yourself to the idea that you will forever mourn the loss of your old life and scratch out a barren, joyless existence. Chuck Noland, face with the formidable barrier of the reef and the lack of materials to devise a sail felt trapped as well. He couldn't reasonably imagine rescuing himself with the materials he had available.Without intervention, he could see no way off.

Noland was trapped four years. Four long years.  I've met people trapped in grief for that long and longer. They fail to get find or accept the resources to get off the island. They remain preoccupied with the loss, crippled by longing for the loved one who is no longer there, unable to find purpose or meaning. I believe that the loss of a spouse if very different from the loss of a parent or a child -- and that each of these losses have their own nuances. None is worse than the other. I've experience all and I can say that the loss of a spouse, to me,  is more like the loss of my life and my identity than any thing else.  Parents raise us up to set us free; we raise up children, not expecting to keep them forever. We experience little deaths when we move away from our parents, when our nest is emptied. In no way is the physical death of either "less" than the death of a spouse, but it is different.  A spouse is someone we commit share life with "until death do us part."  We become one. And as C.S. Lewis wrote, losing a spouse is much like an amputation. In order to not remain trapped on the island of grief-stricken widowhood, you must hold out hope that there IS LIFE out there, just beyond that barrier reef. You need to dream; you need to patiently (gulp, I said the word) believe that escape is possible with the right tools.

"And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back." The island changed him, but at the core Chuck was still Chuck. Parts of who "he" was came back to serve him rather than to control him. Once he was a slave to the clock and to the calendar, now he used his knowledge of these things to purposefully plan his escape. Where the old Chuck was constantly trying to race against minutes, he was now working with the slow, steady reliability and timeliness of the forces of nature. As you find your way off the island of your grief, you will find that you learned a lot being married and you learned a lot as you were thrust into life on your own. Putting the best of the old with the new resiliency and it is a matter of waiting upon Providence to send in the key to escape with the tide. He knows what we need better than we do and Philippians 4:19  tells us "... my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus."

Watching Chuck launch his rickety raft off the island and row headlong into those terrifying waves makes me tense up every time. I'm still impressed by how that rickety thing that didn't look safe and didn't look pretty made it over such an overwhelming obstacle. It took faith to depart from that island. Four years before he was flying above the clouds, his life on course, finding himself in a horrifying struggle against the power of the ocean which spit him out on that rocky shore. Now we see him bravely turning his back on that island and venturing forth with faith into the same ocean. That's faith. Belief in action that there *is* something better out there, that sitting on that island and rotting is not "life."  For me, the knowledge that Pat loved the Lord and that his death wasn't some grim finality made a huge difference in my attitude and my unwillingness to set up camp on the island for the long haul. I also completely believe that God has plans for me, good plans, plans that are not mean to harm me but to see me prosper (Jeremiah 29:11). I have faith that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Just because there is a season where I'm blinded by tears or facing rocky uphill climbs, I have known all along that I can't lose heart because one day I'll see what He was doing and I know it's going to be for good greater than I can imagine.

This is where I have to mention about the whale - this is getting too long for one sharing opportunity - but that whale represents to me God's presence. (I've got much more to write about this that I probably will at a later time). When Chuck gets past that barrier, past his long,dark night of the soul (four years worth), in the dead of night he encounters the peaceful presence of that huge whale. The whale, with all its majesty,bellows, exhales, submerges and reappears on the other side of that rickety raft, casting its peaceful, benevolent eye on Chuck. One flip of a fin or turn of the tail and that whale could crush Chuck, instead it is on one side, then the other, a protective guardian. It vanishes below the surface and yet you know it is there. There is a wonderful song by Mark Heard, a man who also died young of a heart attack and is with the Lord today.  The song talks about how we so often do not realize the "strong Hand of love hidden in the shadows."

I'm on that rickety raft like Chuck.I'm out on the sea on the way to living this new life as whoever He has planned for me to be.