Please Remove Your Mask

On the day of Halloween the proprietor of a local convenience store put a large sign on the front door that said “Please Remove Your Mask”.  He wanted to be sure that the workers would have no fear that perhaps they were going to be robbed by someone in a mask.  He wanted each person who entered the store to become who they really are.

During the years before my husband died, I wore many masks – the mask of “I’m a Strong Christian” and “I Can Handle Everything”.  After he received the terminal diagnosis, I put on other masks – the mask of “Denial” and “I Can Be Strong for Both of Us”.  Once his death occurred, I put on the masks of “I Have Lost My Value”, “I Have No Purpose Now”, and “I’ve Got to Do Life All By Myself Now”.

One by one those masks have been stripped away, but there are times when I find that one or more of them are back on.  How much more could we really relate to one another if we would all pull off those masks that we are wearing?  All of our pretenses would be gone and the real us would be evident.

There is a lot of stress that comes with each of those masks – stress that God never intended for us to have to live with.  The only way to truly avoid that stress is to come to that place where we can really trust God with literally everything in our lives.

One of the main things that I have learned about myself through the death of my husband is that there have been a lot of things in my life that I took at face value without ever questioning their validity.  It was just easier for me that way and I didn’t have to think for myself.  But now that my masks are coming off, I’m finding that I need to think things through and find the truth for myself.  And in that process I am not dishonoring my parents or my husband.  Most of all, I am not dishonoring God who desires to guide me into all truth.  This is all just a part of the freedom that comes with removing my masks.  I can guarantee one thing – there will be no masks worn when we step across into eternity.

Were there any masks that were stripped away when your husband left this earth?  If so, what have you learned about yourself?

Giving Myself Permission

During a counseling session a woman was told to give herself permission to be okay.  That really spoke to my heart.  The more I have thought about it, the more I see how necessary it is to do that.

Giving myself permission to be okay would move me a step beyond acceptance.  I know that my husband Bob knew that dealing with his moving on to heaven without me was going to be very difficult.  I know that because of the question he asked me a few days before his heart suddenly stopped – “Are you going to be alright?”  I had no answer for that question and that in itself was the answer.
Giving myself permission to be okay would be my way of answering Bob’s question with a “Yes”.  If he were here, it would be my assurance to him that I will be able to continue on with my life without him.

Giving myself permission to be okay is also saying that it’s okay for me to find joy again and to be happy with the life of a widow that God has given me

Giving  myself permission to be okay would be saying that God is enough for me and that I am trusting Him to walk beside me and take care of me and my needs for the rest of my earthly days.

What does giving yourself permission to be okay look like to you?

A Widow’s Legacy

“The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives.  What preparations should we be making now?  The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”   Billy Graham, Widower

The Widow Opportunity

Widowhood is an opportunity given to me for God to do something in my life.  Now its admittedly easy for us to feel helpless and defeated and believe that we have to survive by our own strength – especially in the first two years after the loss of our husband.  We may even find ourselves seeking relief from grief in the wrong places.  To see myself as a victim is to displace God in my life.

My faith has been greatly tested as has been my devotion and obedience to Christ.  Through all of my questions, however, I chose to hang onto God and not turn my back on Him.   All kinds of wrong attitudes have been raised to the surface giving me the opportunity to deal with them and giving God the opportunity to sift, sand and sculpt me in this purification process.

Through it all God has demonstrated His love for me even in those darkest of times when I could not feel His presence.  I look back on these first years and can see how He orchestrated every moment of the packing, listing, and quick sale of two homes with property; how He had a new home built a year before my husband died and kept anyone from buying it until I needed it because it was almost exactly the kind of home I had been praying for; how He had the perfect personal financial adviser in place to lead me and guide me not only through the after death process but for the days ahead……………there are just so many ways He has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate His love for me.

The question now is am I willing for God to accomplish His purpose in my life  in order to equip me for all that He has left for me?  If so, what must I believe in order to be able to continue walking through this grief process triumphantly and respond to it wisely?

I must believe that God is in control.

I must believe that God has a specific purpose for my life.

I must believe that God is able to demonstrate through my life perseverance under pressure.

I must believe that God will use my grief to develop Christ-likeness in me and make me into the woman that He designed me to be.

I must believe that my grief will help me to measure my spiritual maturity in order to see where I am in my spiritual growth.

I must believe that God is walking with me not only in my grief, but for the rest of my days here on this earth.

I must believe that by God’s grace and power, I AM going to make it without my husband.

The most important thing in my life is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I have a choice to either walk alone or to walk with Christ.  A widow without Christ has no hope.  A widow with Christ has the only true, ultimate, unchanging, eternal friend carrying her when she needs it and walking beside her when she is able to walk.  In this Friend’s outstretched hands is not only the gift of eternal life but eternal HOPE.

If you are a widow and have accepted Christ as your own personal Savior, are you willing to take this opportunity of widowhood in order for God to equip and accomplish His purpose in your life?

If you are a widow and have never accepted Christ, are you willing to do that now?  If so, I would love to share with you how you can do that.

NOW

This morning I read an excerpt from the book THE SHACK.  I have never read this book, but was so profoundly touched by this conversation between Jesus and a character named MacKenzie or “Mack”.

“Tell me what you’re afraid of Mack.”  (Jesus)

“Well, let me see.  What am I afraid of?” began Mack.  “Well I am afraid of looking like an idiot, I am afraid that you are making fun of me and that I will sink like a rock.  I imagine that – “

“Exactly,” Jesus interrupted.  “You imagine.  Such a powerful ability, the imagination!  That power alone makes you so like us.  But without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster.  If I may prove my case, do you think humans were designed to live in the present or the past or the future?”

“Well,” said Mack, hesitating, “I think the most obvious answer is that we were designed to live in the present.  Is that wrong?”

Jesus chuckled,, “Relax Mack; this is not a test, it’s a conversation.  You are exactly correct, by the way.  But now tell me, where do you spend most of your time in your mind, in your imagination, in the present, in the past or in the future?”

Mack thought for a moment before answering.  “I suppose I would have to say that I spend very little time in the present.  For me, I spend a big piece in the past, but most of the rest of the time, I am trying to figure out the future.”

“Not unlike most people.  When I dwell with you, I do so in the present — I live in the present.  Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit not an extended stay.  And for sure I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine.  Mack, do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me with you?”

Again Mack stopped and thought.  It was true.

He spent a lot of time fretting and worrying about the future, and in his imaginations it was usually pretty gloomy and depressing, if not outright horrible.  And Jesus was also correct in saying that in Mack’s imagination of the future, God was always absent.

“Why do I do that?” asked Mack.

“It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t.  It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real.  You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try and make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear….”

“So why do I have so much fear in my life?”

“Because you don’t believe.  You don’t know that we love you.  The person who lives by their fears will not find freedom in my love.  I am not talking about rational fears regarding legitimate dangers, but imagined fears, and especially the projection of those into your future.  To the degree that those fears have a place in your life you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you.  You sing about it, you talk about it, but you don’t know it.”

Oh!  Am I ever guilty of living most of my time in the future with all the imagined fears that I have about that as a widow!  How many wonderful moments have I anxiously fretted away because of all of my fears of the future?

Again, God is prompting me today to live in the present.  Not the past.  Not the future.  Just the present precious moments of today.  May God continue to remind me very often because I so easily slip back into the way I’ve been thinking for so many years of my life.

The Power of Music

” When you’re happy, you enjoy the music. But when you’re sad, you understand the lyrics.” -Frank Ocean.

No truer words have been spoken.  Music has always been a very big part of my life.  I grew up hearing my mother sing as she worked around our home.  As a little girl, I would sit at my grandmother’s feet as she practiced for hours and hours on her piano.  That is where my  love for piano music was born and my own music lessons began at the age of nine.  The music of the piano became the best way for my introvert heart to express all that was inside.  I played so much that my brothers would beg me to stop.

Ferree Hardy of Widow’s Christian Place posted a blog this week about music that got me thinking about how powerfully music has and is continuing to affect my own life.

The way I viewed music changed tremendously at the death of my husband.  Suddenly those lyrics came alive and I was able to see into the hearts of the ones who wrote them.  Blind Fanny Crosby’s words “When my lifework is ended and I cross the swelling tide.  When the bright and glorious morning I shall see.  I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side and His smile will be the first to welcome me.  Oh!  The soul thrilling rapture when I view His blessed face and the luster of His kindly beaming eye!  How my full heart shall praise Him for the mercy, love, and grace that prepare for me a mansion in the sky!  I shall know Him.  I shall know Him.  And redeemed by His side I shall stand.  I shall know Him.  I shall know Him by the prints of the nails in His hand” give my husband’s moment of death and face to face introduction to the One he had followed all of his life a very clear picture in my mind of how that glorious time must have been for him and will be for me some day.

Frank E Graeff’s words “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song?  When for my deep grief there is no relief though my tears flow all the night long?  Oh, yes, He cares!  I know He cares!  His heart is touched with my grief” that he wrote after some very difficult trials full of great despondency, physical pain, and doubt were now words that could have been written by me.

Although he suffered from poor health his entire life, Thomas Obadiah Chisolm’s words “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.  Thou changest not.  Thy compassions, they fail not.  As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be”  remind me no matter how many changes occur in my life, there is One who never changes and who is forever faithful.

There are life stories of heartache and hard times behind the lyrics of many of those old hymns that I grew up listening to and singing.  Now they hit home.  It’s taken me almost three years to be able to mouth the words when I hear them.  It’s still too painful for me to put voice to them as the tears roll down my cheeks.  Yet, I find that through those tears, my heart connects to God in silent worship as my relationship with Him grows deeper and more intimate.

Whether you grew up on the old hymns or the worship music more common to today, there is a song lyric writer behind each song who is using his or her words to share their hearts with us.  Pay closer attention to what they are saying and don’t sing those words unless you really mean them because God is listening to this form of worship.

Heart Healing in Protection Mode

One of the many things that has surprised me about grief is how much heart healing is needed after all the many losses involved with the death of my husband.  One such healing took place in my heart in the early morning hours of my birthday the first day of this month.

My phone rang and when your phone rings early like that, your heart begins to pound because you immediately think that it may be bad news.  However, this phone call was a good one.  One of my sisters-in-law made it possible for my 87 year old father-in-law to have our first conversation in almost 3 years.  He is hard of hearing and needed someone there with him to make that call to me.  I will be forever grateful to her for doing that for me.

I was so very happy to hear his voice and the first thing he said to me was, “I still love you.”  There is no way to adequately express how much that meant after all this time.  It was like warm buttery sunshine being poured into my soul.  Even though I have sent my father-in-law a hand-written letter every month, I  have felt that disconnect with my in-laws that so many widows experience.  I don’t say that to hurt anyone intentionally.  If you aren’t a widow, I know that you don’t understand the expectations that widows have.  However, one of the important life changing things I am learning is that I cannot place my expectations on others and expect them to do the things that I would like them to do.  I can’t control other people.  That has been a hard lesson for me because I not only have very high expectations of myself, but I have just as high expectations of others.

That specific hole in my heart for my husband’s family is beginning to heal now and I find myself ready to take an important step forward in that regard.  I have learned a lot about me and a lot about my relationships with others.  Will I continue to be careful not to so quickly open myself up to people?  Yes, I will.  It is that shawl I have wrapped around me in the “protect Candy” mode that I am in and that is okay.  Yet, my heart is open to God much more now and He will continue to walk along with me stopping when necessary to chisel away my rough edges making me more and more like Him.

Bless the Lord

Laura Story is not a widow, but one who understands the pain of suffering.  She wrote the No. 1 worship hit “Indescribable” recorded in 2004 by Chris Tomlin, married a handsome athlete named Martin Elvington the next year, and began working in music and women’s ministry at the 4,000-member Perimeter Church in Atlanta. After signing an artist deal with the INO Records, her 2008 national debut won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album and earned Laura two consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year—all blessings, indeed.
But amidst that success a brain tumor hospitalized her husband in 2006. The faith Story sang about was put through the unexpected fires of fear and loneliness; most young newlyweds don’t imagine being kept alive at one point by breathing machines or having to find their way through significant post-operative vision and memory loss. Could grace notes resound from such a life-altering struggle? Laura’s incisive new album, Blessings, suggests they do.

“Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship him,” Story begins. “Martin hasn’t received complete healing—and that can be hard at times when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, ‘Yes, this is how faith works.’ God has proven to be faithful.

Yet Story knows firsthand the journey to surrender gets complicated—that it sometimes involves having to redefine what God’s “blessings” could mean, a spiritual wrestling match she perfectly encapsulates on Blessings’ breathtaking title track and first single:


What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life

is a revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?

“The song shows that we still have more questions than answers,” Laura confesses. “But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make: whether we are going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God, or whether we’re going to judge what we hold to be true about God based on our circumstances.”

(Excerpt from http://laurastorymusic.com/about/)