Sunday, April 23, 2017

All is not lost, so it seems...

Yep, I'm the kind of girl who makes Venn diagrams. I've read several things about how one can tend to lose one's self in a relationship. I figured that a 34 year relationship, 33 of that in the 24/7 state that is marriage, that quite possibly I could have lost a lot. No, I did not.  Considering that marriage is designed by God and that I have found no shame, only honor, in being a helpmate to my spouse, I can look at my diagram and soundly say that I am still who I was. I'm just being forced to operate in a different gear.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Castaway...(Part II)

And back to comparing this past year of my life to Tom Hanks adventures in Castaway. The first part was probably close to two weeks ago because my life has been so crazy busy.  If you wanted to reread it, its on my blog:  In Castaway, Chuck Noland found himself on a deserted island with one main focus: keep breathing. I found myself in the same place after Pat died. Purpose itself becomes confusing, so it must be simplified to what once was automatic.Every day becomes a matter of inhale, exhale.

One thing Pat was always saying throughout our marriage was "We are One." We were a unit with a joint purpose. He would get so annoyed if a business would insist on only speaking to him and not me. He'd say, "She's MY wife. We are One." As that "one" unit, we divided up the tasks of life and each did what was required to keep the life that we shared on course. Chuck's travels on the plane were like our marriage - we had a destination and purpose. For 34 years together we headed there.

As unexpectedly as Chuck's plane broke apart mid-air and plunged into the sea, so the life that we had came crashing down when Pat died at 55. Chuck could not fly through the air and complete his business without that plane. Without Pat, our marriage was no longer a vehicle to carry me further on my journey in this life.  Just as Chuck was forced to cling to his raft while being tossed on the tumultuous sea with no clue where he was or what would become of him, I, also had to cling to something to keep me afloat. My something was my faith in Christ. It's a buoyancy outside of ourselves which kept Chuck and I afloat.

In  2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul lays out the perils he has endured which included, "three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," Prosperity preachers like to treat itching ears to the idea that nothing scary will happen to you once you are a believer. That is far from the truth - Paul goes on to say, "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."  He certainly didn't escape hardship but he did discover something marvelous and uplifting through it.  In Romans 8 he proclaims this wonderful truth, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." On my island, I've been learning this, too.

As "one" unit, Pat and I had divided up duties. He had his jobs; I had mine. Suddenly last July, I was faced with all the jobs and doing them underscored his absence.  I was so deep in grief it was hard to keep afloat, much less figure out how to do his jobs. The Pool Fiasco illustrates that (look back to last summer's images of my deep green pool and the toxic concoction I created in that giant cauldron trying to kill it). In Castaway, we see Chuck trying to provide for himself - his clumsy struggles to crack coconuts, his comical spear fishing attempts, forcing himself to eat things that are gross simply in order to survive. He was also doing things he had never done because he *had* to, similarly I found myself doing many things because I *had* to. I'm sure that I've looked just as hilarious as I have tried to take on Pat's tasks in order to keep my life and house going. Learning to laugh at myself and to let go of perfectionist expectations has been key. Try, try again. Through it all, though separated from Pat by death, I was never separated from the love of Christ.

With every success there is the satisfaction of, "Hey, I *did* this!" even if you don't want to actually be doing it anyway. Unclogging a drain. Changing a very high ceiling light (that he was always sure I'd break the glass globe of or fall off of something trying to do). Killing big spiders. Making minor repairs.  I love when Chuck finally makes fire, he dances around it, beating his chest, so filled with relief and joy - I have definitely had my moments like that.

The reality of the matter is that Chuck was stuck - by circumstances out of his control - on an island that he didn't want to be on. This past ten months has been a Philippians 4 learning experience for me. The Apostle Paul say in verses 12 and 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." I can't say with truthfulness that I've "learned the secret of being content" but I'm getting there.

And again, this is too long to finish my comparison - some of the rest is already written in another piece and I'll wait a few days to share it. God bless. :)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Castaway...(Part I)

If I were to liken my experiences over the past eight-and-a-half months to anything, I think elements of the movie Castaway are a pretty decent fit. I very much identify with feeling like my life as I knew it was ripped apart by turbulence and went hurtling into the deepest, darkest ocean. I also feel like I've had to engage in a battle of wits with myself in order to survive this ordeal. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually I've had to conquer a slew of challenges. Like Chuck Noland, I've also been working my way back to "home" and yet, unlike the protagonist of Castaway, I have been finding out I must have a brand new life a whole lot sooner than he did. The old one is irrevocably gone.

Chuck Noland is a very busy man with a very busy life. He has an agenda and goals he must meet. That's how I was - I was very much consumed by the things that needed doing and I valued the scheduled down time we had very zealously. Just like Chuck and Kelly had a romantic moment before he took off on the ill-fated flight, Pat and I had had a wonderful weekend - moments of relative peace, contentment and promise which belied the coming storm. Chuck was on board a jet, scurrying to solve a business problem in Malaysia, flying over the ocean when danger struck. I was cleaning up from a nice barbeque in the comfort of my home.

Pat's pain was like the initial turbulence. Suddenly it grew alarming. The next 8 days were akin to Chuck's experiences on that plane until it crashed and plunged him into the sea - ready to take him down to a watery grave with it. The life raft tied to his wrist that inflated and pulled him to the surface - that was my faith in the One Who will always rescue me and cause me to rise above the waters. When the emergency supplies snagged (goods which Chuck could have utilized to survive), they ripped off with a tug and he had to rely on the raft alone - or like me, on faith alone. All the "emergency supplies" that are a marriage sank with Pat's death. In one tragic catastrophe, it seemed like it was me against the ocean. (And yet, the Strong Hand of love was always there).

The struggle to the surface is real. Will you be under and stay under? Will the weight of the plane (aka the lost life) drag you down to the watery depths with it? Would it be easier to just relax into grief and despondency, to let the wreckage and sea overwhelm you? I'm a fighter, sinking without a fight was not part of "me." It's instinctual to fight, to engage in the struggle to rise to the surface - but useless to flail around just looking at all the dangers in terror. One must choose to unleash that raft, allow it to inflate and pull you, albeit choking and gasping, to the top and seek the next step once you get there.

Coming to the surface, the ocean looked like mayhem. An inferno was ensuing, Chuck almost got sucked into an engine... he *had* to THINK and paddle away. He survives to find himself in the middle of the South Pacific, deep dark depths of the ocean below him, nothing but waves surrounding him. I rose to the surface of the eight day ordeal of Pat's death to find myself in the middle of a dark ocean, too. Chuck lost consciousness overnight and washed ashore on an island - I shock-walked my way through a week of preparations and found myself washing ashore on an unknown land, a rocky, desolate place called Widowhood.

Chuck begins to explore his surroundings with one main priority guiding him: survival. Maslow's Hierarchy of Need says that we instinctively seek to fulfill basic physiological needs and safety needs on the lower levels. This is where we diverge a bit because sleep/food were not on my agenda during the first tumultuous weeks. Some people eat their way through grief - not I. So while Chuck was worried about food/water, I did join him in the shelter and safety hunt. I sought out info on what to do about our mortgage, title, etc, etc. I was VERY concerned about safety and within a month after Pat's death had my Conceal Carry Weapon's license. I also absolutely had to finish my Master's Degree - my husband dying in the middle of my last class was at once a curse and a blessing. I had to on some level hold myself together in order to 1) complete my degree and 2) maintain my 4.0 GPA. My new job was starting two months after his funeral - so like Chuck, I was occupying myself gleaning things I could use from whatever washed onto the shore of my island.

I don't recall ever hearing Chuck express denial over what happened to him. He accepted the plane crash and his situation with an active desire to survive and to turn things around. One of the stages of grief is supposedly denial. From the get-go, I knew that I knew that I knew that Pat was gone, that he was never coming back and that my life would never be the same. I could cry a river and it would never bring him back. Oh, cry I did (and do), but it is emotional release more than it is despondency.
The motive of survival is a place where Chuck and I diverge - he was actively trying to survive in order to return to his old life. I was actively trying to survive to do what? To discover who I would now be and what God had in store. Chuck had a deep desire to return to his "normal" - I knew that a return to my "normal" would never be possible. However, I did have a goal of finding parts of the integral parts of the "old" me and to see them incorporated into whatever the future had to hold...

This is Part I - there is more coming. It was just getting far too long for one posting. So, don't worry, lol, I'll get into the differences regarding the ever-present company of God (definitely more powerful than Wilson!), companionship, challenges faced, etc.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I'll take this heart break and tuck it away...

An Irish headstone says this:  "Death leaves a heartache/no one can heal/love leaves a memory/no one can steal."  In the midst of my crazy, busy life, heartache often stops me in my tracks. I often find myself in a place where I need to just suck it up and keep a stiff upper lip or else I will not be able to stifle the flood the wants to cascade forth. As I've often said, I refuse to succumb to despondency. I do my best to bite my lip and force myself to save the tears for later. If I turn my thoughts to the memories of love and the things that make me smile instead of fixating on the loss, this works well. I do my best to live my life, each day enjoying the happiness that God grants me; in the midst of this, I make my visits to his grave, knowing he is not in it, but using that time I've specifically allotted to let out the anger or sorrow, whichever emotion chooses to rise up. Sometimes it is just poignant nostalgia and a sobbing, "Why?"

Last night I had a dream that included - for the first time appearing together in one of my dreams - both Pat and my mother.  I thought this was great because they always enjoyed each other so much. Seeing them together was so fun. In my dream, I forgot a bag on top a refrigerator at a store because I left due to a stomachache (one actually woke me out of the dream). Pat offered to go back to the store and pick it up for me before it closed. This made me smile because that was how he was -- if I ran out of contact lens solution, he would offer to run out and get it, even if it was late. No matter what it was - now he most likely used the time to sneak a sneaky cigarette. At some point in the dream, I was buckling my grandson, Zane, in a carseat while talking to Wendy when I realized that Zane was born after my mother had passed and she couldn't really be there. As Pat headed off to get my bag, I realized he couldn't be there either. The dream faded and I woke up with the very real stomachache.

Kenny Chesney sings, "I'll take this heart break and tuck it away and save it for a rainy day."  I think there are some that think it is cold or heartless to adopt this perspective. I don't. I call it grit. I call it survival of the fittest.  It's the drive to DO THIS that has kept me afloat and kept me sane during this awful eight and a half months since his life ended and mine changed irrevocably.

It's no secret that lately there ain't no escape
And that I've been waking up alone
Just me and the TV and a sinking feeling
That you ain't ever coming home

But today,
The tears ain't gonna hit the floor
'Cause the boat's in the bay
And it's calling my name
So I'm heading on out the door

'Cause the sun's too bright,
The sky's too blue
Beer's too cold to be thinking about you
Gonna take this heartbreak and tuck it away
Save it for a rainy day

Death - I used a word up there - irrevocable. Irreversible, unalterable, unchangeable, immutable, final, binding, permanent. He's on the other side of that and until I join him, this change in this life cannot be changed. My love for him will never change. My memories of our life together are always with me. This is comforting and I can lean on that whenever need be. But the sun is too bright, and the sky is too blue...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Meaningfulness or meaninglessness of things...

I committed a faux pas or a horrific error of judgment, depending on whose feelings or opinions are considered.  This past week we had a big snowstorm which led to two school snow days and a lot of shoveling. My boyfriend was visiting from NJ and wanted to help me shovel.  On my back porch were my late husband's muck boots. He suggested that he wear them since he had no snow gear with him. I said "sure" and off we went to shovel. The dogs were happy as could be - and they have been so lonesome without their master that they adore having a man around. They really respond to a man's voice and that masculine energy. Anyhow, I was taking pictures of the dogs in the snow and he wanted a picture to commemorate his first time shoveling Ohio snow. Taking pictures led to more pictures and he sat on the front porch with the dogs.  In the boots.  And I shared these pictures on Facebook. Two of my daughter's were terribly offended and felt an assault on Dad's memory by "pawning Dad's old stuff on a new body."

Years ago when Pat and I were young in our marriage and in our lives, we lived in New Mexico.  We made friends out there that we dearly loved.  We had to go back to NJ because his mother was very sick and work was slow.  We left our stuff in storage with the intent of coming back. After a couple of months, our friends offered to hold the stuff in their garage so that we didn't have to keep paying storage rent.  We accepted. We told them that they could use some of our things. Use, not take.  Anyhow, when we returned to NM one year later all that was returned to us was a large box of haphazard saved items.  My grandmother's wardrobe cabinet - gone. Pictures and paintings we loved gone.  Pots and pans, dishes - only some returned.  My cherished ceramic animal collection and tiny curio cabinet that I had loved and cared for from childhood, including a tiny miniature cedar chest of drawers with childhood treasures. GONE. Our friends had gotten involved in a cult that believed in "no graven images" - therefore, my ceramic animals were smashed or otherwise destroyed. Pat's pictures, including a large portrait of a Native American, were given to some of their relatives. We had to plead for our dinette set to be returned - it had belong to my late great aunt/godmother.  I was devastated. My stomach was filled with gnawing, aching pain and loss. BUT after prayer and anxiety, we chose the friendship over the things and over drama.  A year later when I gave birth to my daughter at 3am, this friend was at my bedside at 6am bringing scads of adorable little girl dresses to clothe my precious one.

Since that point in time, I've not had the same feeling about things.  Small things may be meaningful to me - but they get lost, memories and feelings can't.  When my diamond fell out of my ring while substituting 1st graders, I knew there was no way to find it - I had been everywhere and it was the small diamond that my husband could best afford during our youth. It meant the world to me - but it was gone. He was there, he wasn't gone. It hurt but I learned some more about things.

My husband is dead now. All the things he had are filling up this house. He collected many, many, many things and they are oozing from every closet, corner and crevice. The basement is packed. Which things should I assume hold an attachment to someone? All I know is that he is gone and I loved him. Those things aren't him. They don't even represent him to me. They are things and the person mattered far, far more. So much so that I didn't even think about those boots - he had so, so many boots - being put to use.  And yet, I'm judged callous and heartless - given all sorts of motives, I'm sure.  I'm weary of it. Very, very weary. I could build a glass shrine to encase those boots and what else shall I add to it? Gloves? The walking stick? The smelly shoes he wore far more often that I still didn't throw out? Will it bring him back? Will it make me or anyone else remember him more or someone transport him back? I don't think so.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Though the darkness hide Thee...

Another overcast day here in Ohio. Grey clouds obscure the sun while the slightly warmer drips are causing the snow and ice to melt leaving patches of brown mud. It's the kind of day where it is easy to let stress and woes wear you down. Doubts and despair seem to love days like this. Challenges and hurts in my life were casting gloom on me that rivaled the greyness of today's sky.

After praying with my prayer partner this morning, I palpably felt the Lord's answer to his prayers for me. After praying for my thoughts to be captivated in obedience to Christ, a simple verse, Proverbs 17:22, was implanted in my head. "A merry heart does good like a medicine." I made a conscious decision to submit to God and resist the devil. We are not to be ignorant of his schemes and surely, I know from experience that he is a destroyer of joy.

This stanza of a favorite hymn began playing in my head - one my Dad and I used to sing in the car together.

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man, Thy glory may not see:
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power in love,and purity

As I cleaned the house, played playdough with my grandsons, changed a diaper, and all the morning's business, it kept refraining within me and speaking to my soul.

Though distance or drama, death or circumstances separate our hearts from the hearts of those we love -- His love is still perfect, His love is still pure and He still has the power to heal our pain, relieve our doubts, quiet our despair.  When we can't seem to measure up to others' expectations or our own, He sees us with eyes of love and compassion. It may be cloudy out here in Ohio but on the other side of those clouds the sun is bright and vibrant. It is at work, melting away the snow, warming the air, bringing impending spring. On the other side of my inner cloud cover, that darkness trying to obscure my eyes from His glory, He is, as ever, the brightest light, a consuming fire. It's a struggle to get past that "sinful eye" that often wants to wallow in misery (and is too forgetful of the greatness and graciousness of God Almighty - it blows my mind how easy it is for the human heart give in to despair in spite of repeated demonstrations of God's love, care, might and power).

This passage from Ephesians 6 gives instructions on dealing with the struggle:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

13 Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth fastened around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.

And this from 2 Corinthians:

4 The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

He goes with us in every battle. He is Jehovah-Nissi, God Our Banner, it is His colors that we wage this war under. The battle isn't mine, the battle is the Lord's. His strength, not my own, is what must be relied upon. His is the victory.  He is also Jehovah-Rapha, the healer and like He healed the bitterness of the waters of Marah, He will heal the bitterness that springs up in our lives.
Self-reliance and the resentfulness that comes from self-reliance not working out so well definitely creates a bitter drink.  But again, just as the battle is the Lord's, the healing is also His.

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

He's holy. :)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

New creations, even when the people from your past won't let the "old you" die...

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" ~  2 Corinthians 5:17, 18

Erin Dyck writing for YWAM Montana says this, "In Greek there are two words for new: neos and kainos. Neos means “new in time”, meaning an addition to something already in existence: for example a newborn baby or new year. In the New Testament, neos is the word used to express the “new” in the New Covenant under Christ (Heb. 12:14). The other new is Kainos, it means “new in nature”, implying the very first of its kind. Kainos is Paul’s choice of words to describe the “new” in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, all who are in Christ are not simply additions to the human race, but unprecedented, never done before, creations. This is the Gospel and it absolutely changes everything! If this is true, the Christian existence is an absolute phenomenon!"

It was many years ago that I gave myself to Christ. The change He made in my life then was profound - but it hasn't stopped. He has continued to transform me, day by day, chipping away at flaws and revealing sin.  I'm a work in progress, constantly being renewed by His word and made over into His image. Philippians 3:12 - 14 says this: "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

I remember what it was like back in the day when I first changed and people around me were incredulous. Some did not want to accept the change; some scorned and mocked it. Some even felt it was a fad or a flight of fancy. I remember how my late husband felt - there were many people who did not believe the change in him. He had those who felt disbelief about his conversion and were unkind enough to express it.  It was a struggle for us to be judged and scary to feel the draw of old sins and old habits. However, God does not lose any of those that He calls. Decades later the new creation, continuous being constructed, became "who" we were expected to be and the us of the past was the incredulous part.

We need to remember how hard it is for those who are new creations in Christ. There is a complete reorientation of relationships, of friendships, of behaviors... there is the judgment of those who don't believe in the change in you. They want to bring up your past, they want to discredit the changes in your life.  As you struggle to“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Ephesians 4:1, there will be those who naysay and want to bring you down. We need to remember that people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  He who began a good work in that new believer has promised to them, just as He promised to you, that He will continue it until the day of Christ.

There is a definite struggle - the Lord told us the Parable of the Sower for a reason. We need to take heed that WE are not trampling new believers underfoot. That we are not the weeds that are choking them out. We need to do as the Apostle Paul did and forget those things behind us and allow new believers to forget those things behind them, everyone pressing onward to those things that are ahead in Christ.

Be gentle on new creations - the struggle with sin will still be there, but as Wayne Stiles said, "You cannot out-sin the grace of God. God the Father never abandons His children." That should be what we remind them. Sometimes a new believer who has experienced New Life may be very sensitive when recognizing sin and not politically correct about it. Spiritual blinders have been removed and it's like seeing trees for the first time. Be kind.

The world wants to hurt us, but take heart - He has overcome the world.

Bob Bennett wrote this beautiful song that has come to mean so very much to me over the years.

Lord of The Past
Every harsh word spoken
Every promise ever broken to me
Total recall of data in the memory
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I've ever felt alone

Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
(You can redeem these things so far away)
So now I'm asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of the Past
(Be the Lord of my Past)
Oh how I want you to
Be the Lord of the Past

All the chances I let slip by
All the dreams that I let die in vain
Afraid of failure and afraid of pain
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I've ever felt alone

Well I picked up all these pieces
And I built a strong deception
And I locked myself inside of it
For my own protection
And I sit alone inside myself
And curse my company
For this thing that has kept me alive for so long
Is now killing me
And as sure as the sin rose this morning
The man in the moon hides his face tonight
And I lay myself down on my bed
And I pray this prayer inside my head

Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
So now I'm asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of my Past
You can do anything
Be the Lord of the Past
I know that you can find a way
To heal every yesterday of my life
Be the Lord of the Past

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One body, made of some messy parts...

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. " Ephesians 4:2-3
"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." Romans 12:4-6
" For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...." 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

These verses were heavy on my heart/mind today. With my classes I've been using different informational texts for Black history month. We've had some good discussions about the injustices and unfairnesses that occurred and have occurred through history. Today one particular text led to a discussion on bullies.  I found an article that talked about different reasons why people bully others. One of the reasons is that the bully perceives the victim as different in some way - smarter, weaker, whiter, blacker, more easy going, more anxious, etc. The bully might have a big ego and think he/she is better than anyone else, that his/her ways are the best ways or the only ways. The bully might be jealous and have a problem with low self-esteem. There could even be a pack situation.

So here we are in the Body of Christ, a collective of broken people who recognize their need of a Savior. People from all kinds of walks of life come together, called by God, at all different places in their spiritual growth. People with all sorts of different gifts. People with all sorts of different ways of doing things. People who are different from each other. Sometimes very different. Now, whoa, wait - can you figure out what I might be getting at? Bullies within the body. The Apostle Paul must have dealt with this - he writes in 1 Corinthians 12 "The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

We are not going to be just like each other. Some of us may have old habits or behaviors that need the Holy Spirit - or we ourselves may have them and someone else's actions are revealing our personal not-so-good-junk in our reactions. They may want us to be clones of them or we may want them to do things our way. BUT the body needs eyes, it needs knees, it needs hands, feet, ears... It needs some of the parts that some may find less than presentable.  This is where being completely humble and gentle comes in. We need to be patient with others and pray that they are patient with us. We need to humbly realize that we, too, are imperfect and should bear with each other in love. It is our responsibility to make every effort to keep the unity in peace.  We are not the same and YET we are loved by our Lord and should love one another.

As I was writing this, one of my graduate school classmates shared a fantastic devotion with my from John Piper's "Desiring God" page, featuring Philippians 4:6 and 4:19. Don't be anxious, make sure that in all things you pray with thankfulness and let your requests be known to God and rest assured that God will supply all your need out of His riches. Therefore, if you want unity - ask. If you want to be accepted, understood and treated with compassion, pray. If you might be reacting with a less than humble and gentle spirit to another member of the body, present your problem to God. He will supply you with what you need to overcome the battle you are in. Now, it is a shame, that sometimes we must feel like we are in a battle with other members of the same body but again, this is apparently a thing that has gone on since the early church. Nothing is new. People are people and until we meet our Lord, we are bound to experience friction. We must patiently and prayerfully allow the Lord to knit us together.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Being blessed in many ways...

Lately when I run into people who don't see me regularly I am greeted with tender glances of concern and questions regarding how I am doing. Just last week I got three super sweet notes of care in the mail. How precious this is! (I *adore* mail). It has been seven months since Pat passed; I must say, it is extraordinarily sweet to have friends out there who are still reminding me that I'm in their prayers. In the words of Leo Buscaglia, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."    

Langston Hughes once said, "When people care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul."  Daily I'm out there with my James F. Bell attitude telling myself that "Fear is met and destroyed with courage," but I know darned well that it is the folks behind the scenes praying and lifting me up to the Lord who have given me the strength to go through this grieving process, to start two new jobs, to go through all the chaos and craziness that ensues when your partner is torn from you and your  life suddenly does a tailspin.  So - how am I doing? Thanks to the grace of God and the prayers of His people I'm alright. I am really and truly alright.

I'm working two jobs - teaching middle schoolers by day and teaching 5 exercise classes a week.  I can't even begin to say what a blessing this is. Yes, it is hard sometimes to come home and have to rush right out the door again BUT -- and this is a big BUT -- I am doing what I love. How many people get to do what they truly love? Lighting fires, teaching kids to love language, to love learning, to find better ways to communicate -- I adore this. One of my 7th graders told me last week, "Mrs. P, I admire you for your empathy." I was impressed that he understood the word and ecstatic that he saw that in me because I try so hard to feel what they feel, to figure out where each of them is coming from so that I can get them excited and involved in learning. And then there is the gym - To give people a good hard work out, to help them feel good about the things their body can do and to help them believe in themselves and their potential - that energizes me.

Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." I know I'm really flinging the quotes around tonight but these words from Kahlil Gibran hit home: “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy." When I'm teaching, I'm teaching out of love, out of wanting to impart some knowledge or start the wheels of cognition grinding in someone's mind - and I love it when the lights come on and I can see the "Aha!" moment like a neon sign flashing. I love when I've challenged someone's body and they thought "I can't do that" and they find themselves saying, "Hey, I DID THAT!"

It is a warm and happy feeling to know that I've got friends out there praying me through this widowhood. I am certain that the road would be much harder if it weren't for your visits to the throne room on my behalf. Every hurdle that arises, every obstacle that looms ahead, I'm hedged in with the knowledge that God's got this. Romans 8 all the way. :)  And -- God has blessed me with a prayer partner who has been praying with me every morning and every night. If I were to write an infomercial script about why everyone should have a prayer partner, it would start with "Would you like your prayer life be transformed with a spiritual practice that will maximize your results?" Matthew 18:19-20 tells us, "If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" Praying with a partner is uplifting, encouraging, humbling, and simply beautiful.

And on that note, Mondays are one of my few nights to play "catch up" around the house. After a busy Friday/Saturday, I was waylaid by that nasty stomach bug all day Sunday and it lingered into this morning. I've got mountains of laundry to put away and chores galore.  God bless!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Death and taxes...

Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." These things are said with resignation. As humans, we must be resigned to the undeniable fact that we all are going to die and we are all going to be required to pay/file taxes.  An unfun part of this time of year for me is having these two collide.

I have the task of filing taxes jointly with Patrick for the last time and having to check off a "deceased" box with death info on my 1040. Throughout this whole ordeal there have been times that bring about suffocating horror like taking his name off insurance, documents, property, etc.,  or stabbing pain like being stumped when filling out emergency contact information and not putting his name on the paper. Sitting here seven months from the day his heart attack turned my world upside down, the wound will be torn a bit as I go through the ordeal of taxes and realizing the finality of his death once again. It's not like it's not there in little ways daily, but a big ticket item like this certainly salts the wound. (The fact that I substituted for seven districts last year and have to enter info from ten W-2 forms doesn't help make the chore any easier).

Now, Pat never helped with taxes. It's not like in doing the deed, I'll be missing much of anything. He lurked somewhere at a safe distance while I muddled through the chore; he made himself available for occasional whining or griping. He preferred avoiding the stress and listening to how things were going from just far enough away to hear without being sucked into the ordeal. Nothing has changed - I do the taxes, I do them well.  I randomly complain loudly, I'm sure the dogs will also keep their distance.

Tax time is just another hurdle to cross. I'm sure the burn and the aching reminder of "Yes, my husband is dead" will pass. Then there will be Valentine's Day, birthdays and an anniversary and such is life. A whole bunch of "first withouts" will come, be survived, and time will continue to march forward. I'm doing things - whether I really want to or not - that need to be done. There is a feeling of accomplishment that comes with every item checked off my list. Sometimes it is satisfied accomplishment; sometimes it is the "WHEW!" glad that is over sort. There are things to freak out about, but I know God's got my back and I'm shielded, covered and in the best of Hands. Regardless of what is my current situation, I'm plugging away and moving on to the next "must do."  " Pat's death happened. My husband is gone. The clock ticks, the sun rises and in the words of Miyamoto Musashi "The Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death." And hey, the truth of the matter is that in the mundane or in the horrific, the banal tasks or the noble challenges, Romans 8:37 rings true: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

"It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things," said Theodore Roosevelt. Lest I sound too heavy on the "grim" and to light on hope, God has been blessing me. Romans 12:12 says to  "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continue steadfastly in pray."  The Lord has definitely been throwing joy into my life with encouragement from friends both old and new, (thank you Anna for the card!), opportunities to talk about Him, and lately a prayer partner to help me start and end each day (thank you, thank you).

Death and taxes may be colliding in my life this month, but dancing around them are irrepressible hope and the certainty that my God's on my side.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Finding Boaz...

Ruth is a good go-to story for widows everywhere to illustrate that love can come a second time around. It makes for a good romance novel in general - there are obstacles and yet they are overcome.

In the biblical account, Ruth is a Moabitess married into the family of Elimelech who had escaped a famine in Israel. Tragedy seems to track down this family as her mother-in-law, Naomi, is widowed. Within 10 years, Naomi's sons, Mahlon and Chilion, have also died.  This leaves three widows destitute and fortuneless.  One daughter-in-law, Orpah, returns to her people with Naomi's blessing; however, Ruth clings to Naomi and will not abandon her.  Together they head to Naomi's home of Israel where the barley harvest has just begun. Naomi is older and unlikely to ever remarry. Her hope had been that Ruth would find a husband among her own people; however, Ruth tells Naomi that basically the people of the Lord (Naomi's people) are her people and she will go with her wherever she goes.

Digressing a little, this is what the Bible says about widows:

“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5)
 “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow” (Ps. 146:9)
“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deut. 27:19)
“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27)

Paul talks to Timothy about four types of widows:
(1) The “widows indeed” (NASB; NIV this translates to “really in need”), who do not have family members to care for them (5:3-5, 9-10)
(2) Widows with children and grandchildren (5:4, 16)
(3) Younger widows, who should remarry (5:11-15)
(4) Widows who live for pleasure rather than for the Lord (5:6).

As for me, I know I come under category 3.  I'm too young to be a burden on my children and grandchildren. Too full of life to resign myself to a manless existence. This is what the Bible says to me:

1 Timothy 5:14  I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

I don't want to be category 4 - so it is of crucial importance to me that the man I chose to spend my later days with loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind.

So back to Ruth, she and Naomi arrive in Israel basically destitute. No man to provide for them; they are reliant on the good will of the community. Naomi was depressed over the situation and it is obvious that Ruth is a source of comfort to her. As I mentioned, the barley harvest is about to start so Ruth offers to go out and glean the fallen barley, dropped by the harvesters, in order to provide food for the two women. She winds up in the field of Boaz, a relation of the deceased Elimelech. He takes notice of her, asks around about who she is, and then tells her "Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled."  He zooms in on her need for protection. He makes sure that she knows that, not only is she welcome there, but he is going to provide that protection. She is grateful and actually asks him why he is being so nice to her. He lets her know that her reputation has impressed him and he wants God to bless her.

It turns out this is a good place to be - Naomi is pleased and tells Ruth to stay there. Now, Ruth must have already respected Naomi deeply because she chose to leave her own land to stick with her.  Read the rest of the story and see what happens.  Boaz is obviously quite happy that this young widow took notice of him and he gets right to the business of seeing that she can legally become his wife. Ruth asks him to "spread the corner of your garment over me" (Ruth 3:9, NIV) which had several meanings.  The word for corner in Hebrew means "wings," so she is asking him to protect her like a mother bird protects her babies beneath her wings. She was asking him to take her as his wife, to be her guardian-redeemer.

Now widows come with baggage. They come with memories, with the heartache of loss, often children and belongings from the former relationship that death has completed. The guardian-redeemer of the OT willingly understood that offspring from that relationship would be accounted to the deceased relation.  While this is not a practice in our world today, there is still a boatload of baggage that a Boaz acquires when he finds a Ruth that he desires. It is a special, kind and loving man indeed who is willing to take on that role.

Feminists might cry out that women have no need of a guardian-redeemer, they can take care of themselves, very well, thank you. Feminists can keep their opinions to themselves.  I know that for me, I enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with my late husband. We each had strengths and weaknesses that balanced out the others. We stuck to traditional relationship roles and well, I like that. I have no need within me for crying out "I am woman, hear my roar!" I'm more like, "I am woman, hear me purr." So for women like me - young, widowed and not liking this self-reliant thing - I hope you find your Boaz.  A kind, loving man who wants to honor and protect you. A man who respects and honors you, who loves the Lord and is full of faith.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lights go out...

Don't laugh, but I changed a ceiling light bulb for the first time in my life all by myself - no one to stop me from dropping the globe and breaking the glass dome thing! #impressedwithmyself It was simply was never my department. He could do it without standing on a chair.

After I changed that ceiling light bulb today, it occurred to me that this is the third burnt out bulb that I've changed since Pat passed away. One in the kitchen, one on the back porch (which turned out to be the light fixture and Bob put up a new one), and now this one in the living room. I really needed light for my project so I got the bench he made for me and stood on it. The most solemn sobering thought hit me. I was painting baseboards under that new light and I suddenly realized: Pat had never lived in that light. This light never touched his skin, lit his path or gave me light to see his face. One by one all the lights that he lived in and shared with me will go out. Lights we lived and worked in, kissed, hugged, cried and fought under. One by one, I'll be replacing bulbs and he will never share in this light with me.

Part of me is so very, very sad but there is bigger part of me that has no choice but to rejoice for him. In Revelations 22:5 the Word says, "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." Here I am, changing light bulbs, facing the strictures of time. Day. Night. Lights on, lights off. Pat is basking in the light of God's presence -- which never goes out.

Posted on Pat's wall:
I changed one of the ceiling light bulbs today. I could almost hear you telling me to wait until you got home and you would do it. It's the third light bulb I've had to change since you died. It occurred to me tonight that those were lights that shone on you. One by one all the light we shared will be gone; new bulbs and light you don't live in with me will eventually be in every room. I hate thinking that, but it is one of those truths that grabs me by the throat and squeezes the tears out of my eyes.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Love? Widows/widowers - what are you looking for...

This will just hang here for anyone who happens to find it.

I had a conversation last week with a man I had been seeing. I felt something was missing - I felt that maybe we didn't have the same wants/needs in a relationship.  So I did the thing that men and women alike dread in a relationship. I said, "We need to talk."  This was a Wednesday. The upshot of it is that by Saturday we mutually decided that we needed to move on. It didn't get ugly. It just was. I can't say I wasn't hurt and disappointed that, after investing a bunch of time (having realized how darned precious it is when Pat passed on), that we really weren't as compatible as we initially thought. The fact that a week out, I'm not heartbroken says that yep, it just wasn't right,

So here is what I wanted to talk about.  What are you looking for in a relationship? This has some twists when it is post-death of the proverbial "love of someone's life." When someone is separated from their spouse by death there isn't the rejection from other types of separation; there is a very different emotional imprint that comes with losing someone via break up or divorce. When death parts people, that love is deep and abiding. It can even seem larger than life.  The bereaved may not truly want to move on from that love to another. They may be merely looking for steady companionship to bide the time until they follow the beloved spouse to the other side. So "what are you looking for in a relationship?" is an important question.

If you want companionship only, someone to come home to and spend the days with until the shadows fall, that is fine - but you both need to know and want the same thing. There is a love that's like a comfortable old pair of slippers or those favorite jeans that are worn out just right. Easy to be in but you just "know" they are there.  You don't take them out just to admire them; you know where you left them and you don't need to slip them on your feet one more time before you start your day or end it. In a relationship you  aren't driven - you don't "need" to hear that person's voice to say goodnight. You can survive without that one more hug and kiss at the door. You walk to your car, you put in the keys, you drive away. Oh, you'll call in the morning and you like that you have "a person" and are even willing to devote time to that person - but something is just missing. Or maybe it's not - maybe you are so whole and complete that they aren't needed to make you feel that sensation. In Randy Travis' song, "Forever and Ever Amen," he sings "you're not just time that I'm killing." In this situation, well, it might feel like exactly like you are just killing time together.

There is another kind of love - and it's the kind I want. Don't get me wrong - I want that comfort and ease, too. However, I want madly, deeply, passionately along with it. I want the earth to move under my feet and the stars to sing. I want the man who has to say "I love you" before bed, whose voice makes me feel warm and alive. I want the talk to be of us, of the future. Oh, when people have lost someone they love, there will be talk of the one who is gone - but it shouldn't dominate the conversation. A constant diet of another woman or another man is a buzz kill.  Back to Travis' song, he sings, "They say that time can play tricks on a memory, make people forget things they knew. well, it's easy to see it's happening to me, I've already forgotten every woman but you." No, you don't actually "forget" the love of your past, but you have so embraced the love of the now that your focus is on this present love, this present life.  It's mad love; it's need to see you one more time love; it's passionate, mind-locking, into your soul kind of love.

You have to stop and ask yourself. Which love do I want? Don't settle for the love that doesn't fit the bill.

Here's to finding the person who wants the same things that you want in a relationship. Here's to a comfortable place to land, a peaceful easy feeling - and for me, I'll take madly, passionately, deeply along with it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some my poetry about the power of words...

This was written about someone who didn't feel it was necessary to use words of affirmation.

Make love to me with your words
Stroke the inner lining of my soul
   with your deepest thoughts
Find the soft, secret places of my heart
Ready for the touch of your intimations
With your mind make me plead for more
Make me sigh and shudder with passion
For more -- more of the words you use
Communicate to me of your desires,
Your dreams
Your hopes
Spell them on my skin
Burn them deep, like a fire in my veins
Assurances, commitment,
Make love to me with these
And my body is yours, as well

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Working for good...

Every believer knows Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  When trouble hits, we hang on to that scripture, believing that somewhere down the road we will see what the good was in whatever "bad" thing happened. I mulled about this on the way home last week and thought, "What if the "bad" happens for the good of someone else?" Sure, I expect that there will be infinite good in personal character-building and all that, but what if the "bad" that happens occurs so that in some way you can be used for good in someone else?

This weekend I had a disappointment, a discouragement, a setback, along with a very definite kick-in-the-gut feeling which set in. I've had a couple of zingers since Pat's death which were salt-on-an-open-wound, or like getting your left foot cut off when you just lost your right arm. Throughout the past six months I've done my share of "How Long, Lord?-ing" and questioning my ability to ever understand His plan.  So, feeling low, I spent a lot of time this weekend in reflection, retrospect, and, because I'm human - second-guessing.

I made a decision to write down what had me upset and to put it in my 2017 Blessing Jar, believing that God was going to use it for good in some way, shape or form. I even wrote on it that I hoped when I looked at it in December that I'd be able to understand by then what the blessing turned out to be (because I sure didn't see it at the moment). I sealed up my jar and gave it to God.

WELL... that very day there was an inkling of the good. It has only been two days and I'm already seeing VERY clearly at least a part of God's plan. A part with eternal repercussions.  (I am over-the-moon that God decided to give me a peek at the blessing part sooner rather than later).

Admittedly, I don't think we ever necessarily want to feel any temporal pain in exchange for eternal benefits. Pain, well, it hurts. That's why it is pain. We must fix our focus on Jesus and keep our eyes on the prize, even in the face of suffering. C.S. Lewis writes this about the end goal of pain: "We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” Along with that pain is going to come refining; rough edges are going to be smoothed, bad parts snipped off. I know I always seem to have lessons to learn about self-reliance vs. God-reliance.  I find myself praying for a teachable spirit that doesn't need as many hard lessons to get the point!  Thankfully, God is right along with me and compassionately suffers along with me .

A beautiful picture of that is in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew, Digory is desperate for his mother to get well. His suffering heart is raw when he pleads with Aslan. “But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?'

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

'My son, my son,' said Aslan. 'I know. Grief is great.”