(Written 1 1/2 years into my grief journey)
That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons (and daughters) of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world. Philippians 2:15
This morning as I lay listening again to the book At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, I heard these words spoken by one of the main characters who happens to be a very wise lady in her late eighties, “The firefly only shines on the wing. When we stop, we darken.”
That thought instantly struck me. Grief has caused me to stop and fold my wings for awhile now. Occasionally they have fluttered slightly and there have been tiny slivers of flickering light that have flashed in short bursts in this dark place.
I know that it is time for my light to try to begin to shine again for God tells me that as His daughter His job for me in this world of corruption and sin is to shine like a star lighting up the sky. A star is not like a match that is struck, shines brightly for a minute and then flickers and goes out only to be finished with the job and never to shine again. No. A star lights up the dark night sky. It shines brightly and faithfully through the night hours and holds out hope to the world.
My husband’s God-given assignment is over, but mine is not no matter how much I might feel that it is. Yes, I lost my husband and both of my parents in four months’ time and it has been devastating to me to know that all three of their assignments were finished so very closely together in time. But I am still here and there is a reason for that even though I have yet to discover exactly what that reason is.
One thing is sure. This firefly must again take up her wings and begin to fly through this pitch-black, rayless tunnel – this place that is gloomy, foreboding, mournful and seemingly hopeless. I must begin to flutter my “wings” so that my light begins to shine again encouragingly and hopefully. This is my job as I know it now and it feels almost too hard to do, but to stop doing it is to go completely dark.
Oh, dear Lord, You know that it’s going to take a lot of energy for me to take up my wings again and shine. You know also that it would be much easier to just continue to sit in this darkness and do nothing. I ask You to help me to use the strength that You’ve already made available to me in order to lift my wings today and let the world begin to see longer bursts of light coming from my direction again. And in time may my light again burn brightly as I go on alone with whatever assignment You have for me.
Thank you that Your light never goes out. Your Word says that You are not only a lamp that shines right at my feet guiding me, but it is a light ahead of me on this path. I need You, Lord!
Excerpt from I STILL BELIEVE by Jeremy Camp –
The Lord’s character and essence is love; the Word tells us that He is love. It also tell us that He loves us beyond what we could ever fathom. It hit me that if I could really understand His love and how He feels about me–how generously He wants to pour into my life, both in the present age and in the age to come–then I could get free from these fears that were besetting me. In other words, the more we embrace the depth of our Heavenly Father’s everlasting care and concern for us, the easier it is to believe that all is well. No matter what happens on this side of heaven, we can be certain that He holds it all in His hands and knows the end from the beginning.
“Just trust Me,” The Lord was reminding me. “Trust Me. Trust Me. Trust Me.” As I prayed that day, God took me to a time-tested promise: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
I am still just beginning to grasp the truth that His love is the only perfect kind.
In the course of wrestling with fear, I realized I was afraid of the pain and heartache that I had experienced through Melissa’s passing. It might sound selfish, but I feared ever feeling that way again. I realized that no matter what happened all would be fine in the end, because I had dealt with some of the worst pain you can go through. But I was scared to walk through the pain again, because, well, the pain HURTS. That was more my fear, and that’s what God dealt with me on. He brought me to the place where I could proclaim, “Lord, I believe that You will walk with me through whatever pain I will have to face in the future. By Your grace, I will not be afraid of the pain.”
What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me–this is not who I am, “the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because of that“–but it HAS refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.
In his book Laugh Again Chuck Swindoll tells the story of his wife Cynthia’s love of bougainvillea:
Some of my readers know the ongoing debate that Cynthia and I have about bougainvillea. Years ago she really wanted us to plant several containers of bright red bougainvillea. It is a wonderful plant if you look at just the blossoms. But hidden within the plant are thorns . . . I mean those suckers are wicked! When Cynthia looks at bougainvillea, she sees only blossoms. When I look at the plant, I see only thorns.
Unfortunately, there is a house not far from our home with a spectacular blooming bougainvillea climbing off the roof out front. Whenever we pass that house, Cynthia likes to drive a little slower and enjoy the blossoms. At certain times of the year she will point out, “Look how beautifully that bougainvillea is blooming!”
I will usually respond, without looking, “Do you realize the size of its thorns? I mean they are big . . . and they grow all over the plant. You may not see them, but if you walk close enough, you may never get free. It could catch you and hold you for half a morning.”
Cynthia isn’t convinced. She even said to me on one occasion, “Do you realize, honey, that every time–I mean EVERY TIME–I mention bougainvillea, you grouse about the thorns?”
Is this what I am doing? Am I so intent on the thorns of being in this place I am in as a widow that I cannot take my eyes off them long enough to see any of the beauty around those thorns?
I was asked to sing “I Still Believe” in lots of different settings. Many times I would find myself crying out beforehand, “Lord, I don’t FEEL like worshiping You today. I don’t FEEL like saying ‘I still believe.'”
Most of the time, I didn’t want to sing the song! I was struggling to believe the words that were coming from my lips. I just had to be honest with the Lord–He knew I was a reluctant participant in the whole thing–and let Him do what He wanted as I shared the music.
My journey truly was just beginning, though. I had my share of really rough days. Different triggers would release a rush of emotions: watching a movie with some kind of grief in it–I remember weeping in the theater during a war movie–seeing a young couple holding hands and laughing together, noticing a mom and dad playing with a child at a park.
Worse than any of that, I felt my heart starting to get a little bit hard. Anger and coldness slipped back in as if they wanted to stay a while. I didn’t like it, but I sensed that facing the anger welling up from within would be a necessary part of the grieving process.
Another song written by Jeremy during this time was “Walk by Faith”.
Excerpt from I STILL BELIEVE by Jeremy Camp –
It was in the midst of my raw sadness that God spoke very clearly to my heart one morning: “Pick up your guitar. I have something for you to write.”
“Pick up my…..what?”
I didn’t hear God speaking to me audibly, and I don’t always heart His voice prompting me as clearly as I would like. But in the days, weeks, and months following Melissa’s passing, I heard Him “speaking” in my heart a lot more than I ever had before. Looking back, I believe the Lord was reminding me that He is very near to the brokenhearted. Also, I think God knew how numb I was, how incapable I was of seeing things clearly, and how desperately I needed the clarity and guidance that only He could bring.
In this particular moment, my honest, gut-level response was to argue with God. “No, Lord..no. The LAST thing I want to do is play my guitar!”
After trying to avoid His voice for quite a while and occupy myself with other tasks, I realized that this strong directive was not going to fade away. In fact, it was growing stronger. Reluctantly, with what little energy I could manage, I picked up my guitar and started playing some chords. Sometimes obedience to the Lord’s prompting–even when it’s not the most wholehearted obedience or even when it’s not the most wholehearted obedience at first–brings about a startling change. This was one of those moments. Tears began to flow as I played, and so did the words and notes that would become the song ‘I Still Believe’. The words were a looking glass into how I was feeling.
In these words I was crying out, “God, I don’t understand. I’m scattered. I’m broken. The fog is so thick that I can’t even see my own hand in front of my face. And yet….even in the middle of all of this pain and hurt, I DO feel Your grace. I DO sense Your hand of mercy. I still believe You are here with me, even if the pain in my heart is making it so difficult to feel Your presence. No matter what, Lord, You are faithful. You are FAITHFUL. YOU are faithful. I will believe that.”
One line in the song–‘Though the questions fog up my mind, with promises I still seem to bear…’—was really difficult to write and to think about. I often wondered if the weight of grief bearing down might crush me, especially as I wrestled with so many promises Melissa and I had held onto. We had thought she would be healed, that our future together would be bright. We had come through a shadowy forest of doubt and had arrived at what we hoped, believed and trusted would be a clearing of sun-drenched hope. Because of that journey from sickness to health back to sickness, I was confused, and I had to be honest with God. If He was going to speak to me so clearly, I definitely felt my heart and mind bursting to respond.
“I don’t get it, God!” I cried, continuing to play my guitar. “What do I make of all of this?” As I prayed and questioned and wept, the bridge of the song poured forth from the deepest recesses of my heart: “In brokenness I can see that this was Your will for me.”
This was Your will for me.
I was a little bit surprised to hear those particular words come out. Was it, really? Could it have been His will for Melissa to suffer and go home so young, with so much in front of her? I wasn’t sure how to look at it. Did the Lord simply allow her passing to happen as a consequence of life in a broken, sinful world, or could it actually have been something He orchestrated as a part of His will. If it were the former scenario, I had to wonder why God would allow it. Couldn’t He have stopped her suffering and healed her?! If it were the latter, then it seemed far too painful to grasp on this side of heaven that God’s will would include such a wrenching twist.
As I grappled with this deep question, it became apparent to me why some people slip into a place of blaming God for “taking away” a loved one. It certainly can feel that way. I could see myself going that direction if I weren’t very, very careful. The last thing I wanted was to become bitter and turn away from God. Even as I asked tough questions of Him and longed for better answers than the ones that seemed to be available at the time, I knew deep down that I would have to find rest in the fact that some things will not make sense until we get to heaven.
How, when we have no strength to face another day, do we truly lean on the Lord, trust in the power of His word and see that all of His plans towards us are for our good?
In his book I STILL BELIEVE, this is one of the questions that award winning singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp talks about wrestling with when his first wife Melissa died just four months after their wedding. God brought key people into his life at just the right time as servants of healing for him. One of those people was Jon Courson who had lost his wife and one of his daughters in two separate car accidents.
Jeremy – “She loved the Lord. We did everything we could. We prayed, we believed. I just don’t understand it.”
Jon knew how exhausted Jeremy was from the struggle of grief.
“Jeremy, you can rest your head on your pillow at night, knowing you did all that you could. This was God’s plan. He heard your prayers. He comforted Melissa. Rest, knowing that you did seek the Lord in obedience.”
Jon reminded Jeremy that even in those circumstances, “We still need to worship our God. He’s still in control. It’s easy after we’ve tasted God’s deliverance and seen His miracles to say, ‘Yes, Lord, You are the best!’ But it’s tough when you don’t see any outcome, or any good, in a really dark time, to say, ‘God, You are good. You are good. No matter what, You are good.'”
So, I have to say to myself this morning, “Candy, you can rest now knowing that you did all that you could. This was God’s plan for you and for Bob. He heard your prayers. He comforted Bob. Rest, knowing that you did seek the Lord in obedience. I know it’s a really dark time in your life, but no matter what, God is good.”
“…You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future….Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the beaten path and that will make all the difference.” Steve Jobs
Excerpt from WHEN YOUR SOUL ACHES by Lois Mowday Rabey:
I couldn’t stand it when people would come up to me and spout off the familiar words of 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.”
I know you know what I mean.
We believe that verse, but it stings when those words are flung at us as if to snap us out of our grief. It takes time to see goodness in our lives again, and we may never understand why God allowed our husbands to die. We may not be able to answer in our own hearts just how death can demonstrate anything good.
There is a bigger picture than the one we see at any given moment, and God is working in all the moments of our lives. Time must pass and healing must happen before we can transform our belief in God’s goodness into a reality in our lives.
God is patient, and He will stay beside you as you walk from grief to joy. Right now He is working those good things out in your life. Stay close to Him.
(Written 15 months after the death of my husband)
“Jehovah appeared of old unto me, (saying), Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Jeremiah 31:3
One of the thoughts that has hounded me the most in these fifteen months of grieving is how much of a disappointment I must be to God because of how the death of my husband literally threw me on the ground and shattered my faith.
Surely I am a disappointment to Him because I am a Christian and should be able to stand up to the greatest loss in my life. I should be able to keep my head up in the midst of this darkness and have a smile on my face. I should be stronger than this. My faith should be at the highest level it has ever been. I should not have any questions of “why” or statements of “how could you do this to me after my serving You my entire life”. Instead I should be bowing my head in quiet acceptance. I should not be having any trouble finding out who I am now that I am no longer a wife. I should be able to just let go of all those years I had with my husband and move forward.
Yesterday as I was listening to the Moody Radio station in my car, I heard a statement that hit me right in the heart. I do not even remember who said it, but the essence of it was that there is nothing I can or cannot do to make God love me any more than He already does. All my life I have believed that if I do all the right things in following the Lord, that will make me more deserving of His love and more deserving of more of His blessings. When God did not answer my prayers for healing for my husband, I felt totally and completely betrayed. My first thought was that somehow there was something that I did not do right that made me undeserving of getting that answer to my prayer.
The idea that there is nothing I could ever do or not do to make God love me any more than He does literally blew my whole life’s way of thinking out of the water. It stripped me bare of all of my “doing” and left me feeling like a load of “works” had been lifted off my shoulders.
All my life I have been a performance based person with very high expectations of myself and others. I always wanted to do everything I could to make my parents proud of me. Now they did not demand that of me nor do I even ever remember them telling me that they expected that of me. As the oldest child and the only girl this was just something that I expected of myself. I felt like I was the one that should always take care of everyone.
This carried over into my marriage and family. I strived to be the perfect wife for my husband and the perfect mother for our daughters. Whenever I failed, it greatly troubled me. After my husband received a terminal diagnosis and we made the decision to go the alternative medicine route in dealing with that, I did everything I was told to do to keep him alive and well and it worked for a little over five years. I spent hours every day preparing fresh juices and raw food meals for him, putting his supplements in separate bottles to be taken at different times throughout the day, reminding him of all the things he had to do every day to help his body heal, and so much more.
Both of my parents were having health problems at the same time and I was scrambling to do my very best to take care of them as well. To say that I was living on “high alert” would be an understatement. My thoughts were that I HAD to do everything I could for all three of them so that God would answer my prayers for their healing. When they all three died in less than four months’ time, I was completely crushed. My performance had not been enough to merit enough love from God to keep all three of them here with me.
When I heard that statement on Moody radio I realized how erroneous my thinking was. God’s healing is not based on my performance nor on how much He loves me. There is nothing I can do to earn His love. He already loves me as much as He will ever love me. That truth is very freeing. It is something that I am going to have to continue mulling over and over in my mind. I guess that is what renewing the mind is all about.
Thank you, God, for opening my eyes and my heart to this truth. I know it does not negate the truth that I am to do my best for You, but it lets me off the hook in thinking that the more I “do”, the more You will love me and the more prayers You will answer for me.
Help me in this grief journey, Lord. Heal my broken heart and my shattered faith. In spite of everything, I love You, Lord. I don’t understand how I got so messed up in my thinking, but I thank You that as I can handle it and this fog begins to lift, You are helping me to throw open all those doors of my heart that have been locked and sealed and are beginning to clear out the cobwebs in my mind so that I can “see” what is really true.