Living Without Sail or Rudder

“Faith is a thing of the mind.  If you do not believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will flounder on the high seas of purposelessness, drowning in the currents and drifting further into nothingness.  I pondered, one day, as I read the story of Noah.  The Bible supplies every detail of the ark:  how high, how wide, what kind of wood—the comprehensive blueprint.

Yet two details are conspicuously absent:  no sail and no rudder.  Imagine preparing to float on water for that many days with nothing to control the direction of the ship!

We think that if only we were in control, everything would be fine.  God made it imperative in the design of life that we become willing to trust beyond ourselves.  Walking by faith means to follow Someone else who knows more than we do, Someone who is also good.

The Bible is a book on life building, written for us as we sojourn on this planet.  Interestingly, it also tells us that the rudder and sail remain in God’s control and that we enter the high seas with the understanding that we must trust Him.  If you do not have the mind of faith, then you will fall into repeated peril–and God will get the blame.”

Ravi Zacharias/The Grand Weaver

(Photo Credit: Carol Oust)

It Is Safe to Trust

One of my biggest struggles since I became a widow 2 years and 4 months ago has been trusting God.  In her book ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, Ann Voskamp says the following and if I had read it anytime before this morning, I would not have been able to even hear what she has to say:

When bridges seem to give way, we fall into Christ’s safe arms, true bridge, and not into hopelessness.  It is safe to trust!

We can be too weak to go on because His strength is made perfect in utter brokenness and nail-pierced hands help up.  It is safe to trust!

We can give thanks in everything because there’s a good God leading, working all things into good.  It is safe to trust!

The million bridges behind us may seem flattened to the earthly eye, but all bridges ultimately hold, fastened by nails.

It is safe to trust.

Each bridge I need cross, from one moment to moment next, is wholly safe, each leading me deeper into Him and closer to Home.

There are moments that as sure as I bruise don’t feel like good things have been given.  What of all the memories where Christ seems absent?  When the bridge shakes and heaves, when “how will he not also?” reads more like “he will not.

Trauma’s storm can mask the Christ and feelings can lie.

Sometimes we don’t fully see that in Christ, because of Christ, through Christ, He does give us all things good–until we have the perspective of years.

In time, years, dust settles.

In memory, ages, God emerges.

Then when we look back, we see God’s back.

Wasn’t that too His way with Moses?  “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back” (Exodus 33:22-23 NIV).

Is that it?  When it gets dark, it’s only because God has tucked me in a cleft of the rock and covered me, protected, with His hand?  In the pitch, I feel like I’m falling, sense the bridge giving way, God long absent.  In the dark, the bridge and my world shakes, cracking dreams.  But maybe this is true reality: It is in the dark that God is passing by.  The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite; God is passing by.  God is in the tremors.  Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by.  In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will.  Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us, I-beam supporting in earthquake.  Then He will remove His hand.

Then we will look back and see His back.

God reveals Himself in rearview mirrors.

And I’ve got an inkling that there are times when we need to drive a long, long distance, before we can look back and see God’s back in the rearview mirror.

Maybe sometimes about as far as heaven–that kind of distance.

Then to turn, and see His face.

One of my dear friends, who is the founder and director of Widow’s Walk, challenged me recently to start searching for joy.  Joy doesn’t come without trust.  I was talking to my #2 daughter Annissa about this yesterday and she said something I thought was profound – “Your trust issue is a step by step process.  Only you can make those steps.”

I appreciate that Ann says that we may need to drive a long, long distance before we can look back and see God in our rearview mirror.  It’s a matter of my building that bridge back to HIM plank by plank – rebuilding my personal relationship with HIM and believing that it is safe to trust.

Journaling Through Grief

Journaling your grief work can be an extremely helpful tool to get clarity on your thoughts and feelings as you put them on paper.

1.  Find a quiet place in your home where you can write in your journal everyday or at least regularly. Start with the date and begin writing about your thoughts, memories, and feelings about the day. You may approach this as if you were writing to your husband about what you are going through, ways God is speaking to you.

2.  Write down your spiritual questions. Be honest and open with yourself. This is the record of one of the most difficult times in your life. Some widows find it helpful to look back over their journal from time to time to see how far they have come on their journey over the bridge of grief work. Others like to use it to write letters to their husbands. Just start someplace and begin writing. It will come as you relax and let it flow.

3.  You may feel more comfortable with some of your favorite music playing softly in the background. Try to journal in the same spot, at the same time, in the same way every day. Routines can be helpful for widows.You might find that at the beginning you dread this work, but it can eventually become like a friend you looking forward to talking with everyday.

4.  Start by writing about your husband and your marriage. Write about the happy memories, the fun times, and those times that you celebrated as a couple.

5.  Write about the harder times and any regrets you might have had or currently feel.

6.  Write about the surprises, the triggers, secondary losses, (friends, family, etc.) and what it is like to experience the “firsts” of grief.

7.  Try using pictures, videos, music and other objects to stimulate thoughts, feelings, and memories of your husband and your marriage.

8.  Think about the time of year you are writing and let your mind associate other memories you experienced at that season in years past.

9.  Use questions you are having as a starting place, then try to address those questions.

10.  Drive by or visit favorite places you and your husband enjoyed. You may also want to consider this as your private confessional to yourself, your husband, and God.

Widow’s Walk/Walking With Widows

When We Get Tired in the Waiting

“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” 

Romans 8:22-28/The Message

Am I Truly Alone?

“When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal, I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives. But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Galatians 2:30 CJB

Christ in me.  I was reminded of that very thing this morning.  Christ lives in me.  For so long my total focus has been on the loss of my husband – the loss of the dearest relationship to me on earth – and the loss of my parents and that relationship as a daughter with my parents.  But, the fact is, I have not lost the most important relationship in my life – that relationship of God and me.

Everything I need for this day has already been fully prepared because God is in control of my life.  Today I will not be dealing with anything at all by myself.  It is all about God living His life through me.  Christ in me.

That truth is very easy for me to forget in my grief.  I have become very self-centered in my thoughts.  It is all about my losses, my “how am I going to live without him”, and my “how I am going to deal with the rest of my life alone”.  I get lost in all of that.  Life becomes all about me instead of being all about God and the fact that He is in me because I accepted Him as my personal Savior fifty years ago.

If I truly believe what the Bible says, then I believe that Christ is in me living His life through me.  And, in doing that, I will believe that God is the sum total of everything I need in my life without my husband.  It is all about surrendering my will to God.  I must do that because I know that I cannot live this life by myself.

Am I really and truly all alone now?  No, I am not.

God, I know this truth in my head because I believe that the Bible is true.  Right now my heart is so broken over the loss of my husband that I am having a very hard time really “getting” the fact that You are living in me and I am not doing one thing alone today.  Help that truth to get from my head down into my heart so that I can truly KNOW that I am not alone now.

Love Yourself

“The range of my emotions astonishes me.  For the first time, I feel intrigued to find out who I am all by myself and see how this will turn out.  I’ve said before that I need only one person who loves me absolutely and I can do anything.  Well, I’d better love myself absolutely.”

Aurora Winter

Who I Am

Me (tallest one) & My Cousins on Port Aransas Beach in South Texas

Have you ever taken the time to think about all of the people, circumstances and events that have shaped and are shaping the person that you are?  I come from sand and shells and fishing boats in South Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.  My 3 grandfathers (one a step) were a shrimper, and oil field worker, and a carpenter.  My grandmothers were a school secretary and a social worker.

Daddy loved the water, but provided for our family by working at Reynolds Metal Aluminum Co.  Mama blessed us by being a stay-at-home mom.  I always knew I was very loved even though there was not much physical affection shown to us while growing up.

Two of my grandfathers were introverts.  One was an extrovert.  My grandmothers were extrovert and introvert.  Mama was an extrovert and Daddy was an introvert.  I am an introvert.  So, I grew up experiencing the best of both worlds.

I am the oldest of four and the only daughter.  I grew up knowing that I was the one who protected everyone under me and fixed the problems as much as I could.  I don’t remember anyone telling me that was my job or responsibility.  It seemed a natural instinct in me somehow.

I was the good girl who stood back watching others make mistakes and learning not to make those same mistakes.  Although I always longed to be like everyone else and have a boyfriend, that didn’t happen until I was in my second year of college when I met my one and only for life.  Looking back on that now, I am glad that I never gave any part of my heart away to anyone else but my husband.

Bob and I were both introverts although he was more of a homebody than I was.  I always remember him saying that I loved to “run the wheels off the car”.  My idea of a fun weekend was doing something whether it be enjoying the company of other people or just going for a drive in the country.  Bob’s idea of a fun weekend was being at home working outside.  Out of deference to his needs and the things that he loved, I became a homebody, too.  Looking back now, I see that I should have been more assertive in expressing my needs to him, but it was all about “pleasing others” to me.    No one asked me to.  I chose to.

I love the sand of the beach, the call of seagulls flying overhead, the roar of the waves washing in and out on the shore, observing sand pipers as their tiny feet skitter across the sand, gazing out on the water as the dolphins play together,  the feel and sound of the wind blowing and the warmth of the hot sand on my feet and the sun overhead.  I am very organized and love helping others.  I would choose wood over metal and bright colors over subdued ones.  The smell of a wood burning fireplace, fresh cut grass, the heady scent of sweet smelling flowers and a watermelon split in half are very comforting to me.  I prefer lots and lots of natural light and bright, sunny days although a rainy day here and there as I watch from inside makes me feel shut in with God

Seeing trees budding, blooming, and coming back to life in the spring stir hope and renewal inside me.  Stunning flowers whether on their stems or in a vase always make me catch my breath in awe of their beauty.  Sparkling jewels whether they be diamonds or colored gems draw me like a magnet. I love all things that shine and glitter.  It’s no wonder because the Hebrew translation of my given name means “glittering”.

I can see outer beauty in a person of any age whether it  be a newborn or a 90 year old woman with her head of white hair and that beautiful smile on her wrinkled face reflecting that beautiful young girl that is still inside.

Books became my friends at a very young age and allow me to not only be able to travel to places far away but to be able to become friends with those authors who are transparent enough to share their deepest thoughts and with the characters that they write about.

I love to fly and if I could choose to be anything other than a human, I would be a bird able to soar and ride the wind currents.  Hot air balloons with their vibrant, bright colors intrigue me.  The great whoosh of the burner flame filling them with hot air is a sound of power and possibility

Sharing my thoughts on paper only began two years ago at age 57 after I became a widow.  I find that it allows me to so much better tell others what is inside my heart.  Spoken words are not as comfortable for me as written words.  Written words from someone are a gift that I treasure and can take out and enjoy over and over again.

Places I would love to visit would include Hawaii, Switzerland and Ireland – Hawaii because of its tropical nature and my love for the water, beaches, flowers and nature; Switzerland because of those gorgeous snow-capped mountains and those beautiful cows with the big bells sounding every time they walk; Ireland because of the lush greenness of it, the red-haired natives and that strong Irish brogue.

After we married, my husband’s desire was to be the sole provider so that I could be a stay-at-home wife.  Even after all of our daughters graduated from high school, he never wanted me to work outside the home.

My greatest accomplishments in life are without a doubt my 4 daughters who are not only strong and beautiful on the outside, but on the inside as well.  God gifted them to me although I did nothing to deserve them.  One of the pleasures of my life has been watching them each become the individual women that they are and seeing their pure joy at just being together several times a year.  Seeing them now raising and training their own children who are such a pleasure to be around is very gratifying to me.

The thing that I am most thankful for is the presence of God in my life – whether I can feel it or not.  He and I have been walking together since I was nine years old, but it wasn’t until I was thirty-eight years old that my relationship with HIM began to really grow and deepen.  There have been times since I became a widow when I have been in such dark despair wondering just where He was and how He could be allowing certain things to be happening in my life.  Yet, I choose not to give up on Him because in my heart of hearts and in that deepest place of my soul, I KNOW that HE will never leave me nor forsake me.  More and more the truth that HE has planned out every moment past, present, and future of my life is becoming a reality.

What the plan is for my future, I don’t know. I have frustrated myself trying to figure that out until finally I decided to just take life one day at a time as I tell myself that for the first time in my life this is my “God and I Only” time.

Whom Do You Allow to Comfort You?

Elisabeth Elliot shares a story from her book The Path of Loneliness:

One evening when my grandson Jim Elliot Shepard was almost three, he found that his parents were going out and he was to be left with Granny.  He began to cry, and when the door closed he threw himself on the floor in the hallway, kicking, screaming, beating his head on the carpet.  I picked him up in my arms, which required no small effort as he stiffened and howled.

“Jim, would you like me to read you a story?”

Vigorous head shaking and howling.

“Let’s go and rock in the big chair.”

More howling.

“Jim, sweetheart–shall I get you some apple juice?”

The very personification of desolation and misery, he only roared and bellowed–“No! No! No! I want Mama!”

I tried everything and then, in my desperation, remembered to pray.  Why hadn’t I thought of that first?  I asked the Lord to show me how to comfort  him.

“Shall we go outside, Jim?”

Instantly he relaxed in my arms, turned his tear-stained face up to mine, and, choking with sobs, nodded Yes.

Still holding him in my arms, I opened the door to the carport.  The heavy sweetness of jasmine filled the warm Mississippi night.  He took a deep breath, as though inhaling the very peace of God.  In a tiny whisper he said, “Granny–maybe we’ll see some stars.”

I carried him into the backyard where we could look up through the trees.  He was quiet for a long time, nestling into my shoulder, gazing silently at the spangled sky.  Then–“Granny, those are crickets I hear.  Do you hear them, Granny?”

The quest for satisfaction apart from the love of God is as futile as poor little Jim’s refusal of the only comfort that was available to him that evening.  He wanted Mama, and Mama was not there.  Once he accepted what WAS offered, he came out of the howling wilderness of his misery and found peace.

I don’t mind admitting to you that I have been in the place that little Jim was.  I wanted my husband back and there was no comforting me.  I kicked and screamed at God for a long time.  Have you found yourself in this very same place?  Whom do you allow to comfort you?