Thanks for the Memories

We sold our first house to friends.  It is in the neighborhood over from us.

Today I dropped Matthew off there for a birthday party.

Even after 6 1/2 years, it is still a tiny bit odd to be in the house.

It is not that it is still home — it truly isn’t.  It’s just that it was home.

We brought 2 babies home from the hospital to there.  Three learned to walk there.  We celebrated our 10-year anniversary there.  It is flooded with memories, even though the colors are not the same and the furniture is in different places (just as it should be).

And somehow that makes me…just a little sad.

I drove away and off to run errands…missing Keith.

My memories of there are ALL with him.  We bought the house together and worked on it together.  It was the first either of us owned.

I am a creature of habit, I know I am.  I would make a good blind person, as I never move my furniture.  When I think of repainting, it is not to change the color but to touch up what was already there.

I think that makes my grief just a little harder at times.  I want to fall back and cling to the past.  I fight the rut.

But God loves me enough to kick me in my complacency on a regular basis.  He is there to pick me up after He does, but He does not let me wallow, He does not let me dwell.

My dear friend and fellow widow Theresa puts it in terms of the rear view mirror.  We all have one in our cars because it is important to know what is going on behind you.  We have to be able to move from in front of the fire engine or know when to stop for the police car.  But we cannot spend too much time looking behind.  If we do, we will inevitably get in an accident.  The focus of our lives has to be in front — where we are going, not where we have been.

I finished my errands and headed back home — the dream house we built a year and a half before Keith died.  More good memories.  But not all these memories involve Keith.  I have lived twice as long in this house without him as I lived with him.

Oh, the evidence of him is still all around.  The man painted 17 — yes, 17 — colors of paint here for me.  We still refer to “Daddy’s closet” and “Dad’s dresser.”  But there are things here he never did see — including one currently-barking dog, and another currently-whining dog.

But somehow, after all the living here, the memories with and without Keith all have a place and are…just right.  We miss him here, but feel close to him here as well.

I’ll tell you a secret.  The day we closed on this house, my big, strong, Marine husband cried.  He felt so blessed by God to have this home, and so thankful to my mom for providing for us even after her death so that we could.

I am still blessed – to live here, to have been provided for equally well in death by Keith, to be able to continue to homeschool my boys…to live among the memories, and to have the freedom to create new ones.

I guess the suddenness of the onslaught of memories got me at the old house, and I started looking a little too much into my rear view mirror.  Now, I am back on track, glancing in it periodically, but firmly looking forward as I travel forward in my life…blessed…so, so blessed.

You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.Psalm 139:5-6

Gifts of Mercy(Me)

I don’t know how they do it, but the guys who write for MercyMe must be looking into my life.

If you are unfamiliar with this Christian band, they have beautiful, soulful lyrics which have touched me deeply on this journey.

When Keith died, we did a slide show for the funeral.  The sweet friend who compiled it used two MercyMe songs in the background.  These two songs epitomize the way I feel about not only Keith’s graduation to Glory but also how I feel about being left here.  We think about Heaven and talk about Heaven, but now half of me (often I think the better half of me) is there experiencing it.  It takes a lot of the mystery and inevitable fear of the journey not yet taken away from that place for me…and for the boys.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ywDqzvKvvI (Homesick)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng ( I Can Only Imagine)

As I continued on this journey of widowhood and single parenthood, another MercyMe song deeply touched me.  In the busy-ness of my life, I found little time to just be…to be a daughter of the King, blessed and highly favored.  The words of this song I have played nearly weekly since it came out to recapture my lost self, my inner beauty, and my joy at being who I am in Christ.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vh7-RSPuAA (Beautiful)

This is not a journey for the faint-at-heart, but it is a journey that, by the awesome and all-encompassing grace of our Lord, is very do-able.  I cling to the good that has happened in my life–the joys that have been brought to us by the fact that we have had the opportunity to be cradled in the lap of the Lord and washed by His healing hands as we journey this road.  To Him be the glory.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8HgAVenbUU (Bring the Rain)

And even today, may we never fail to help others find the joy we have found.  May we help them on their own journeys as well so that they can experience His healing touch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xzaivDbu9c  (The Hurt and the Healer)

Amen and amen!

Smack Between the Eyes

Not everyone is going to do a job the same as everyone else.  I got that reminder big-time this past week.

I was watching someone work.  She does things much differently than I do.  Not incorrectly, but certainly differently.

As I was watching, another friend came up and commented on how he appreciated what she does.

I gotta say it.  Inwardly, I snorted.  Self-righteous little piglet that I am.

Then I got to thinking.

How often on this journey of grief have people snorted at me!

Stop homeschooling – you need more time to yourself!

Not dating yet?

You gotta take care of that right away!

You should…_________!  (fill in the blank)

With prayerful consideration, I am doing things the way I feel I should be.  Well-meaning though others may be, sometimes they cross the line, in my opinion.

I don’t think they mean to hurt me or doubt my abilities…but sometimes that is just how it comes across.

Here comes the 2×4…I have done the same thing.

Shame on me!

Forgive me, Lord, for not trusting that You have given people certain jobs and certain circumstances to have their unique flair put into the work.  Forgive me, Lord, for looking down my nose at them.  Help me extend to them the grace that I expect to be extended to me.

And…forgive me, friend, for doubting you and not accepting your way of doing things.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in Him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-5

Manna to this Momma

God’s got it.  I know that.  He has shown in so many ways, and in so many instances!  I have faith in Him.

But sometimes in my heart of hearts, I wonder how He will work it out.

Today, I got a bit of an answer.

My dear friend Lorie had my little two over to play at her house with her youngest.  They were playing Playmobil and had invented a game with families.  Jackson was the dad, and Lorie started listening.  Did he get it?  Did he understand the dad role?

Praise God, he did!  She said he was the proper mix of kind and strong and firm and loving.  He gets being a dad, even though he was 2 1/2 when his dad died.

Now, I will take very little credit for how he learned the dad role.  I certainly don’t act the part “dad” but stick to “mom.”  It would not be a real representation of dads anyway, nor of moms.

My oldest steps up and acts the dad a bit, being a very loving big brother, especially with the little two.

I think, though, mostly Jackson has seen it modeled around him, and for that I am so grateful.  Men at church have taken all the boys under their wing and modeled Biblical manhood for them.  Neighbors and friends have allowed them to help them build things, fix things, take care of the house.  They have talked endlessly about sports and guns and “guy stuff.”  They are crucial to me surviving as a single mom.

Even in a world where dads are often ridiculed as dumb, unnecessary, or irrelevant (look at most TV dads), the men around us are coming out of their comfort zones and away from their own busy home life to work with my boys.  My guys are getting what they need to be dads themselves some day.  The gap is being filled.

God’s got it, and I don’t have to worry.

And that is certainly manna to this momma’s heart.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.– Ephesians 3:20-21

The T-Shirts We Wear

Americans surely have a love affair with their t-shirts.

They express loyalty:  to sports teams, universities, and causes.  They express belonging:  to families (and reunions), a variety of special interests, and teams.  They express fondness and memories:  to old TV characters, favorite sayings and scriptures, and trips taken.

In my house, we have a plethora of t-shirts that show all the different rec teams my guys have been on.  The standard souvenir when we have been on a trip is a t-shirt.  All the boys have t-shirts with my alma mater (Go Hokies!).  We also have a variety of t-shirts for the Nationals, Yankees, Giants, and Colts.

I had a conversation this morning with a dear friend about the t-shirts we should wear.

You see, she has had hard stuff in her life, too.  She lives with cancer, and has for more than 14 years.  She is doing well, the doctors say.  She is a survivor.  And I think she is amazing.

But she shared with me that sometimes she would like to have a bio to pass out, rather than to retell the story.  She would rather not deal with the pity — or the label.  She would rather wear the t-shirt I Have Cancer, But I’m Still Here than to go through the whole, drawn-out explanation.

I get that.  Some days I am ready to share my life and my story; some days I am not.

Some days, I see myself wearing a t-shirt that says Widow with Four Children – Don’t Judge Me, Just Love Me.  That way, I don’t have to go through the story or the pity, either.  And I might not have to explain being a little…off.

Other days, I am more ready to wear a t-shirt that says Ask Me My Story…See God in Action!  Or, I’m Not Superwoman, But My God Is Superman!  I am ready and eager to share what God has done and is doing in my life and the lives of my kids.

I guess my point is this:  I am more than the label, more than the momentary t-shirt I wear.  In my humanness I often miss the mark of representing Who I love the most.  And I need to ask Him to forgive me for that.

I have the opportunity–and the responsibility, I believe–to rise beyond my circumstances and be a living example of my God.  I am the sum total of all I have been through and all I will go through, but, most importantly, how I have responded to these things.

And as such, the t-shirt I strive to wear is this:  God’s Child, Wholly and Completely!

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – Acts 1:8

Waste Not, Want Not

How many of us have heard that old analogy?  Waste not, want not.

I know my mom used to quote it to me regularly in relation to the food on my plate.

But do we think of this analogy in relation to our spiritual life…to our pain and sorrow?

When Keith died there was, obviously, pain — pain galore.  Deep, abiding pain, that put a pall on everything for a time.

But God is not a God of waste.  In His economy, it is ALL for good, it is ALL usable, it is ALL glorious.

Waste not, want not.

You only have to look at the way the world works together to see that this is true.

Forest fires cause destruction, but also allow for elements to be added to the soil, and for the undergrowth to see the light of day.

Should it be any wonder to us that our grief is the same?

In the greater community, I am able to be an example, a light, a hand to reach out to another — if I take up the challenge that is before me.  I am able to use the lessons learned to show my children, my friends, and others around me the power and awesomeness of our Lord.

Waste not, want not.

Also implied in this statement is that if we waste what we have been given, we will be wanting.

If I had curled in a corner when Keith died and stayed there, I would have missed so much along the way.

Closer relationships, including with God Himself.  Revival in our hearts and in our church.  Beauty out of the ashes.  All precious, precious gifts!

And so, for as much as it hurts, I would not have traded this journey for the world.  Even if I could have Keith back.

Waste not, want not.

Amen and amen! 

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. – Romans 8:28

Groaning

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.– Romans 8:22-23

Even as I write this, a dear friend is in labor.  She is waiting, expectantly and anxiously, for Baby #3 to make his/her appearance.  Water broken, hard labor not started yet, she is in a holding pattern and has been since last evening.  Nothing to do but wait, watch, and pray.

I am there, too.  Certainly with this sweet sister, as all night I kept waking and dreaming of her, praying for her well being and that of my coming “niece” or “nephew.”

But also in my own life.

I wait, not too patiently at times, for the things of my life to work themselves out, to be born in me and my family.

I long to be the creature I was created to be–me, but different.  Not so sinful, more patient, more loving, more focused on God instead of me.

I want to see the bigger picture, know how to lead my family on the path God has laid out for us.  Sometimes I feel like I am right there, hiking along as I should be over the rough terrain; other times I feel lost in the weeds, tripping over little rocks.  I hasten to what I think is the right way to go, but forget to look where I am going, forget to take all the steps necessary to get there, forget to follow my Guide.

Other times, circumstances totally beyond my control have me laboring.  The world steps in, clouding my vision in the rainstorms of life.  Well-meaning people, and not-so-well-meaning, provide distraction and confusion.  I stumble, I fall.

But I get back up.

Like my sweet friend who cannot escape her labor pains right this minute, I cannot escape mine.  Nor would I want to.

I eagerly await the temporary prizes and successes here on earth…many that are quite meaningful for a season.

But even more, I look toward my forever-prize in eternity.

Labor is hard, but I know that with that first cry, the first look at that sweet little face, it will be all worth it for my dear sister.

With my first cry of hallelujah before my Lord, so will mine.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.- Philippians 3:14-15

Drippy Romances and Dreams

I read Christian romances.  There, I said it.  They give me…hope.

Sometimes they give me life lessons as well, all wrapped up in a cover and characters.

Tonight I was reading about a romance and these words skittered from the page into my heart:  ” …but I realize that in the Lord all things are perfected.  So when things aren’t humanly perfect, we can give them to God who’ll make them better.”  (Gail Gaymer Martin, Loving Care, 2004, Steeple Hill Books)

As a wife who had a pretty “perfect” life, I have been afraid of the future.  Afraid of not finding perfection if there is time #2.  Afraid of comparing, of trusting, of losing again, of making a mistake, of so many things.  I trust God, but do I trust me?

I guess the message for me in these lines was that as long as I trust God, and follow Him, I can trust me.  He loves me and my kids more than I love me and my kids.

If there is another real-life romance in my world, I need to remember that it will not be perfect, and neither will the guy.  He can’t be.  But God can and is.

And in His perfection, I can stand.  I can be scared, but can move on, knowing that He’s got it.

As I mentally prepare for my first date in this millennium (some of you are saying, “’bout time!”), I can honestly say that as scared as I am to try, I am equally scared not to.

Praise God that He has got my back…and my heart…for this whole tumultuous ride!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Following the Fire

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, SO THEY COULD TRAVEL DAY OR NIGHT.  – Exodus 13:21 (emphasis mine)

Reading today the second half of this verse struck my eye.  It seems that the Israelites traveled day and night.  Imagine!  A million people! Small children and pregnant women!  Surly teens and overworked parents!  Day and night!  Makes me weary just thinking about it!

But God was there.

He may not have saved them from the work — He could have, but He didn’t.

He had His purposes for them to have to work hard for their freedom.  I imagine it had to do with trust of God.  If things were easy for them, they would not have to trust God so fully.  They could have escaped in their own strength, and not have had to work to become the devoted, obedient believers they were in the process of becoming.

How much like the Israelites I am!  I need constant reminders of God’s love, my own pillar of fire!

And God graciously provides!  He is always, always, always there.  He is always leading me, whether I am traveling light — or with the baggage of a thousand sad days, a thousand bad choices, a thousand moments of uncertainty — or a thousand-pound bad attitude.

He doesn’t promise the journey will be easy, but He promises to be there.

Just as God led the Israelites day and night, He will lead me…if I let Him.

But the people You redeemed, You led in merciful love; You guided them under your protection to Your holy pasture.  –  Exodus 15:13 (The Message) 

The Audacity!

Okay, so now I have decided to start a blog.  Part of my brain is thinking, “How arrogant of me!  I sit here and think that my words are worth recording for posterity and releasing to others!”

This morning, though, I read Matthew 5:12 in Eugene Peterson’s The Message:  “Let me tell you why you are here.  You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.  If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?  You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.”

We all have a God story — you do, I do, everyone does.  If we share these stories in whatever venue we have, we can make God shine a little brighter here on earth — encouraging fellow believers and maybe helping others make a choice for Christ.

So, in humility I will start sharing my God stories — how He is working in my life.  My prayer is that it will benefit someone — even if it is just me.

I am a widowed, homeschooling mom of 4 active boys, ages 13, 10, 6 1/2, and 4 1/2.  Welcome to my roller-coaster, God-infused world!