A Clean House

Yesterday was the big winter cleaning of our house.  You can probably hear my boys groan from there.  They have good reason for groaning.

It is usually a painful day…for a very good reason.

I will never win any housekeeping awards.

I have the best intentions, but…

Life gets in the way.  Homeschooling, my activities, the boys’ activities, sports, travel…many things are more exciting and enjoyable, to our way of thinking, than cleaning the house.

Oh, we fake a good game.

If you have been over, you may not realize just how messy we really are.  There’s a reason for that, too.  We tend to clean the main floor only, and only do cursory cleaning anywhere else.  (By the way, don’t try to go up the stairs to my bedroom without an invitation…I might have to tackle you!)

Aren’t we like that with our faith, too?

We put up a front…pretending we are fine, clean on the inside and out, while really we are stressed and hurting.  We stumble along, ignoring the relief that could be ours in the form of friends who sincerely desire help us…all in the name of appearances.

A different kind of white-washed tomb…but just as deadly, to my way of thinking.

Aren’t we called to be here to share in community?  Do we think all our friends are perfect, with no problems?  Don’t we want to assist them with whatever is going on?  Don’t we get joy from helping them?

Didn’t Jesus accept from others all the time, as an itinerant preacher, even as He gave?

I tell you the truth…one of the best parts of this widow-walk is the closeness that comes from needing others.  I have learned, albeit painfully, that no man (or woman) is an island…nor should they be.

There is a divine dependence that comes from walking this walk…and it truly is a beautiful thing.

There is no way on God’s green earth that I can do all the stuff I need to do on my own.  And in that statement, I am freed from trying…from trying to be perfect, from trying to be all things to all people, from trying to walk alone.

And that’s a truth I need to remember each and every day.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:4-5

Paving Stones

We have a group of widows (and a few widowers) who meet together a couple times a month for support.

This group has been invaluable in my life for healing…and to create a sense of normalcy.

Right after Keith died, God was gracious enough to give me 5…yes 5…new friends who were widows.  I met these ladies in a variety of ways:  friend of friend, new nurse at the doctor’s office, chance encounters.  Meeting with them was wonderful in those first months of loneliness, pain, confusion, etc., etc., etc.  They had only a few things in common:  the Lord, me, and the 300-lb gorilla of widowhood.

Realizing what a joy this is…and being of a sort of Julie-the-Cruise-Director mentality, I organized them to start meeting together.  Our times are mostly fellowship, but it is fellowship without the awkwardness.  We get each other.

All of us have in our lives dear friends and family who want so badly to help, but are just not sure what to say, how to say it, how to be supportive.  They are not sure how to deal with us on this grief path.  And they have no idea how to lead us.

Sometimes you can almost see their inner turmoil.  Do I laugh at the jokes?  Will there be tears?  What is the proper response both she…and I…should make here?  What if she wants to talk about sex or dating?

It would be funny if it weren’t so painful–for all involved.

Our group is called Travelers on a Different Journey.  We did not choose to be here, but we rest in God to get us through, trust in Him for all things, and lean on each other to guide the way.  The fellowship in the Lord is sweet, the people sweeter.  We have around 25 involved in the ministry.

My sweet friend Theresa, widowed 14 months before me, puts it this way, “I may not be able to pave a smooth road for you, but I can tell you where the potholes are so you can avoid them, or at least slow down.”

And this group works!

It is never more evident than on a light like last night.

We met for dinner at PF Changs (yum!).  One of the gals brought a friend, Wanda, who was widowed not quite a year ago who had not yet met the group of us.

Well, Wanda fit right in!  We gained a sister, and she gained a group of them.  I know that my journey will be a little sweeter for my association with her, and pray that hers will be as well by association with us.

Life is hard.  Sometimes it is harder.  But God is good and He is there every step of the way, to provide paving stones to smooth our path.

I am so thankful for my pavers!!

I pray you see the pavers He has provided along your journey.

And of course, that you know and trust the ultimate Paving Stone…Jesus Christ! 
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone; the Lord has done this,and it is marvelous in our eyes. 
— Psalm 118:21-23

Walking Buddies

I am the analogy girl.  I see analogies in everything in life.  You may have guessed that.

Many of them lately come from my daily walks around the neighborhood.  Somehow it always relates to my “daily walk.”

That’s really pretty awesome, when you think about it.

I have some great walking buddies–two regulars and a sometimes addition.  Each of these precious women adds much to my life.  We have a great time walking and talking…often talking about heart-and-soul matters, sometimes praying together.

They are a tremendous blessing from God–all three of them.

Some days, though, the circumstances and busy-ness of life has me walking alone.

It is not bad to walk alone.  I am often quiet, listening to God.  And looking…always looking…for Him to speak through His creation to this analogy girl.

A morning last week was beautiful and balmy, with a breeze blowing (I also like alliteration).  I walked along, greeting the day and the others I normally see on the way (it’s amazing how quickly we have fallen into the pattern of being part of the morning in our neighborhood).

I listened to the birds and felt the wind in my face…and talked to my Father.

Much of my lifewalk is a parallel to my 2.5 morning miles.

Sometimes I walk in community, and sometimes I face things without an earthy companion.  (Well, always without my favorite earthly companion…nearly 5 years now.)  Regardless, God walks by my side, guiding my steps, listening to my diatribes and my praises, supporting me and correcting me as I need it.

I am thankful for all my walking buddies–the morning ladies…and all who have made this widow walk so much easier.  I am thankful for the beautiful fall days, my neighborhood, my freedom.  I am thankful for God’s constant intervention in my soul to point out the good in my world…and to cleanse the yucky parts to shining white.

My morning walk is uphill in places, just as is my lifewalk.  Regardless, I know I am never truly alone, never facing things alone, regardless of the circumstances.

And that is a lot to be thankful for.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.  — Psalm 68:19

In Praise of Girlfriends

You know who you are.

Or maybe you don’t…

You’re the one who complimented me on my children’s behavior on the day I felt like a failure as a mother.

You’re the one who called at dinner time nearly nightly to get the debrief of the day.

You’re the one who laughed with me about men and marriage and sex on the days I wanted to cry and wallow in self-pity.

You’re the one who bought the flowers Keith would have bought for our anniversary.

You’re the one who thought to include us in your holiday gathering rather than let us be alone.

You’re the one who called from miles away to tell me you were holding me and the Lord was holding me.

You’re the one who saw to it my grass was mowed when I was overwhelmed with the kids and would have let it grow over the top of the house.

You’re the one who brought over a check on Christmas Day to cover expenses you had no idea I worried about.

You’re the one who watched my kids so I could have dinner with a friend without the constant clamor of “Hey, Mom, guess what…”

You’re the one who cleaned my bathroom on your hands and knees just as it was beginning to resemble one in a gas station.

You’re the one who prayed for me while you were getting ready for church Sunday mornings, figuring I was facing some challenges (I was).

You’re the one who checked in on me while I was driving long distances, and insisted I call when I got there.

You’re the one who cried with me at the cemetery on Memorial Day, and brought flowers for Keith’s grave.

You’re the one who took me for my first pedicure on Mother’s Day and sat laughing with me.

You’re the one who shared out of your bounty for the holidays to make sure I had something to open, too.

You’re the one who still called me with your prayer needs, realizing that I needed to take the focus off me and do things for God.

You’re the one who pulled up a tissue and sat down, chocolate in hand, to spend an hour with me.

You’re the one who listened when Jesus whispered in your ear that I needed you.

And for that I thank you.

From the bottom of my heart.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. – Proverbs 17:17

A Happy Mother’s Day, Part II

A second lesson from the Mother’s Day baskets:

I contacted the ladies to deliver the baskets.  I even sent a picture of the baskets, all scattered about my living room.

The overwhelming response from the moms was, “For me?  There’s one for me?”  They were incredulous that someone would care that much, put that much effort, into someone they do not know, and may never meet.

When they find out there is, then come the tears.

You see, as single moms, we get used to doing without.  There’s always another bill or another growing child who needs shoes.  It often is not as much fun to buy something for yourself, so we skip it, save the money and move on.

Aren’t we all like that?

We have this incredible gift in our loving Savior, and we sometimes look at it and say, “Is this for me?”

We see our unworthiness.  We have gotten used to doing without.  We fail to see the blessings ready to be heaped on us.

I have a secret to share.

We had a lady join the group recently, the week before the baskets came out, in fact.  She needed the comfort of a basket blessing from unknown friends.

I gave her mine.

I am not saying this was easy.  For this girl whose love language is gifts, it was a pinch.  I had been looking forward to the surprise.  I knew it was coming.  But mine did not come.

But it’s OK.  Really OK!

I got more out of delivering the baskets, of passing on a material blessing in favor of a spiritual one, than I thought would be possible.

And God taught me a bit more in the process, refined a few more rough edges.

And that’s what it’s all about.
 
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. – 1 Peter 1:6-7

A Happy Mother’s Day

My love language is gifts.  (read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, www.5lovelanguages.com)

That means that the holidays and I continually do this great dance to see if my needs will feel met.  It’s just the way it is.  Not right or wrong, just reality.

When Keith was alive, we exchanged gifts at each holiday.  I was usually happy to give him hints, pick it out myself, or call some house project my “gift.”

But not for my birthday.  Then, I needed a surprise.

Since Keith’s death, God has continued to send me surprises.

Even for Mother’s Day…maybe especially for Mother’s Day.

We are on the eve of my fifth Mother’s Day without Keith and each year God has touched the heart of someone to bless me in an amazing way.

One year, a dear friend took me for a pedicure while her hubby and my boys cleaned out and washed my car.

One year, I looked out the window to find my sweet neighbors mulching my front beds.

One year, friends came over to make breakfast at my house.

One year, flowers arrived the Saturday before.

It is almost like Christmas morning when I was a kid, when I eagerly tripped down the stairs to see what Santa left me.  Wise Santa, my parents told me, always knew what I needed and of my list what would be the best gift.

This year, God had a gift planned as well.

My dear, sweet friends from a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, www.mops.org) group felt led to make Mother’s Day baskets for our widows’ group.

When they asked me months ago whether they could do this project, I was touched.  When I saw baskets, I was flabbergasted.

These were not tokens.  The ladies went all-out in filling the baskets until each one was a rich, loving expression, mom-to-mom, of what a struggle it is, what a joy but a pain it is to be a mom.  They may not be single moms, but they got it, appreciated us.

When we picked them up, they overflowed the back of my car.  I cried.

But that was the beginning of the gift to me.

I got to have the joy of delivering these precious baskets to each of the ladies, to see their faces, feel their gratitude, wipe their tears.

God in action!  And, praise Him, I got to be part of it!

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:18

Insight into the Why

There is something special about sharing the burden of my sisters in Christ.

I have the privilege of crying with two dear sisters at church over the past weekend, holding them while the pain and hurt engulfed them, letting it engulf me too so that in some way I could share it.

I’ve been there.  Different pain, perhaps, but I have been there.

When Keith died, friends would come over or call just to cry with me.  They came with open arms, prepared to help me carry the burden for a bit.  They knew they could not ultimately take away what was mine to carry, but they wanted to ease the burden for a time, bearing part of the weight, supporting me so I could breathe for half a minute.

It was hard, but it was joyous as we grew closer together through that sharing.  It helped everything make sense for a moment, and that moment was enough to help me have strength to face the next moment.

Fast forward to today.  I am better attuned to my sisters in Christ.  I am more able to be that worker who shows up, knowing I have a load to lift, a soul to lighten, if only by catching cathartic tears.

And for that, for my friends, for that privilege of burden-bearing, I am forever grateful.

Thank You, God, for that insight into why my life looks the way it does!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4