The Mystery of Widowhood

“Though mystery shrouds the glory of our lives, it is there. Mystery must be mined, one shovelful at a time and with careful inspection of each collection. It is easy to overlook gold when your eye is not trained for the unpolished mineral. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien/The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the hardest things that a widow wrestles with after the death of her husband is trying to discover who she is and finding her purpose as a single lady. Many of us found our joy and value in being a wife and when that “job” was ended, we find ourselves floundering. In reading Gary Barkalow’s book IT’S YOUR CALL: WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE it has come to my attention that we have something to give to this world that has to do with joy and intimacy with God and not a “job” evaluation.

I myself have tried and tried to figure out just what my life is all about now – what my purpose is as a single woman. In fact, I have looked for that purpose, theme, and direction so hard that I have allowed it to become a major stressor and narrow my range of being able to hear God.

The journey of widowhood is one that begins when we are thrown way down into the valley onto totally unknown trails. Barkalow writes, “I have heard said that the most spectacular vistas require traveling the roughest, most dangerous trails. And so it is with our lives—to reach the most beautiful, authentic, fulfilling places in life will require some risk. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. We tend to look for a definitive activity, position, or place that we can call ‘God’s will’ for our lives. We want a precise, easily understandable answer to the question ‘What am I supposed to do with my life?’ But we are never offered that in Scripture. What Scripture does say is that God ‘will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go’ (Psalm 32:8) and that He ‘is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him’ (Phil. 2:15 ISV). God’s calling on our lives is far more mysterious than methodological, and mystery is something we don’t handle well.

I cannot better explain the word “mystery” than the way that Barkalow describes it below:

“Mystery is something to be embraced, journeyed through, and enjoyed. It’s not that mystery can never be explained but rather that mystery unfolds—not all at once, but a little at a time. ‘Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ (Rom. 11:33-34). God is not a little confused or in the dark. He knows what is going on, who you are, and why you are here at this time in His story. We must believe that God knows what He is after with us. In the midst of mystery it is helpful to remember that the best is perhaps what we understand least. There is more to you than you know. What is most glorious about you is yet to be fully revealed. Your life has a depth and purpose that cannot be revealed in a moment in time; it must be journeyed into with one discovery leading into the next.”

The question that immediately pops into my mind is why does there have to be mystery? Proverbs 25:2 answers that: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” God doesn’t hide things from us so we can’t find them. He hides them knowing that it draws us closer to Him during the search. This is certainly true in the life of a widow who is consistent in her grief journey. Suddenly life becomes only you and God together. And when something that we are searching for is uncovered and found, there is joy in that discovery.

We are not to occasionally ask, seek, knock. Our life is to be one of continually asking, seeking, and knocking. We are to be explorers not tourists, archaeologist not museum visitors. Our life should be continual shouts of ‘I found another one!’ Not only does God want us to experience the excitement of discovering truths about our purpose and design, He wants us to stay in intimate conversation with Him. God knows that if He were to tell us everything we needed to know about our lives, assuming we could comprehend it, we would probably run off in desire and excitement to fulfill our purpose, without returning to the conversation. I believe God will give us enough clarity to keep us encouraged and moving, but He will also shroud enough of our purpose in mystery to keep us coming back for more intimate conversation. Mystery is an invitation to intimacy with God. Instead of wasting your energy fighting mystery, allow mystery to stir you and guide you to keep asking and seeking and knocking”, says Mr. Barkalow.

I cannot express to you how knowing that this mystery of widowhood is not to be found out all at once but a little at a time takes the load off of my trying to figure everything out. How about you?

Grief Light

“Grief is our finest, most enduring labor of love as we remember, honor, and rebuild our life for the future. Through the work of grief we learned the unforced rhythms of grace–the grace of God, the grace of rest for our soul.”  Julie Yarbrough

Over the course of time since becoming a widow, I have read over fifty books written by Christian widows and a few widowers. Grief Light by Julie Yarbrough is one of the top three best books that I can recommend to other widows. This author has experienced firsthand the loss of a husband, a father, and a mother in less than a decade. She knows the pain of anticipatory grief and the all-consuming responsibility as well as exhaustion that a caregiver experiences.

Grief Light allows the reader to emotionally walk through that time with her as she processes every facet of grief. Julie is very candid and frank about her responses to all of the emotions that she feels. She does not tiptoe around the issues and allows herself to share the effects of grief and even the thoughts she has about things that people say to her. Holding herself up to the standard of “Super Christian/Super Widow” is something that Julie does not do. Nor does she wear a mask. I found her raw honesty to be very refreshing.

There are many different kinds of grief that Julie talks about that such as scrappy grief, collective grief, empty grief and delayed grief. Most of these were types of grief that I had not heard of or read about. Because Julie had wonderful relationships with her husband and her father, but did not have a good relationship with her mother, she experienced different kinds of grief and is thus qualified to talk about them.

I was especially moved by the comparison of grief to a slow-moving train that the author gave and feel it is important to share a bit of that here with you because it is so easy to picture it in your mind.

“…I thought about how grief moves through our lives, much like a slow-moving train. It’s not at all difficult to name the freight cars of our grief–fear, worry, despair, anxiety, loneliness. But if we look at what’s under the train, guiding its path, directing the way, we see tracks–simple yet ingenious in their design and purpose.

The tracks are a little like our life. We name the two heavy rails of our spiritual support–trust and faith. Upon the rails of our life are evenly spaced ties of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22 NRSV). The ties distribute the weight of our grief so that we’re able to bear the load of our life without the one we love.

The train’s track system is embedded in ballast–small pieces of broken rock packed together and leveled to keep the rails and ties in place. Ballast gives the track a stable base. The ballast and bedrock of our grief are the steadfast love and faithfulness of God….(Psalm 36:5 NIV).

The rails of a train track are set at a fixed distance apart. The gauge corresponds precisely to the wheel specifications of the train. The train can’t run without the tracks, the tracks have no use except for the train. The tracks lead somewhere–there’s a destination….

We’re not intended to sit idly at the railroad crossing of our life worrying about when life will move on or where life will take us. We wait for awhile–with frustration and anger, or with forbearance and hope–as the train of loss and sorrow moves slowly through our soul. We know with certainty that every train ends, with or without the finality and promise of a red caboose. When at last the tracks of our life clear, we’re on the move again. Our end station is life beyond our grief. When our direction is certain, we move ahead….”

Julie also shares that one of the most difficult challenges of grief is waiting–“waiting on God, waiting on life to unfold, waiting to feel better, waiting to be better…….When we grieve, somewhere deep within we long to soar again. It’s what pushes us to struggle with what’s happened and find within our soul God’s power lifting us up to new heights of life and love and faith.

Grief Light is one of those books that is important to read whether you are a new widow or a widow who is years into her journey. No more than three pages are written on each topic that Julie discusses making it one of those books that is easy to read and to absorb. As I read this book, I found a better understanding of my grief and had one of those “God lightbulb” moments that answered one of the questions that I’ve been asking God for the last six years.

Julie was kind enough to send me an extra copy of this book to give away. The first person that lets me know via a comment below in this blog post that she would like to read this book, I will be very happy to get a copy of it to you in the mail.

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

It has recently dawned on me that since the deaths of my husband and both parents I have been more focused on death than on living life in the here and now. The brevity of life and unexpectedness of death has greatly impacted me. For the first time in my life I had to meet with a lawyer to make out a will. In order to alleviate as much burden as possible from my four daughters my financial adviser helped me make preparations and arrangements should I ever need any type of long-term care. I added my oldest daughter’s name to my checking account. All paperwork possible for end of life details have been signed.

I find myself more concerned about all the different possible future “what if” scenarios than just being able to live in the present and enjoy the moment. In fact I would even go so far as to say that I have become obsessed with making sure that all my ducks are in a row.

It is a firm belief of mine that God does not reveal something to me that I need to work on in my life until He knows that I am in the right place physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to process through it and make a change. This is one of those times.

My life went from caring for three loved ones to life now as a widow. This has given me a lot of time to think. Now that can be good and it can also be detrimental. The good parts are that I can spend the time I need to really face my issues, process through them and deal with them. The not so good part is that I can get so focused on something that my thinking can become obsessive. My mind can go to the worst case scenario very quickly.

During my last six years of holidays I have done what I felt was best for my daughters and their families. But, the holidays this year were different in a good way. Because I was not feeling well, I spend Thanksgiving alone. This is something that I had needed to do for myself, but had chosen not to do because I did not want to disappoint my family. I used the time alone this year to feel whatever I needed to feel and found that it was a very peaceful day.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas my daughter and her family from Missouri came to spend a little over a week visiting with me and the other two daughters who live in the area. Being able to spend time with my Missouri grandsons and seeing how much they have grown and changed between each visit is a joy. I always think about how much Bob would have loved them and how they would have loved Bob. I especially loved it this time when my five year old grandson Cole told me “I have a grandpa in heaven“. This meant that my daughter is keeping her dad’s memory alive in the hearts of her sons who were born after Bob went to heaven and that brings me so much joy.

Christmas Eve was spent with one of my brothers and his family. We had a very simple meal of several homemade soups which are my favorite comfort food. It was a very quiet, relaxing and enjoyable evening spent reminiscing and laughing about our childhood holidays with our family, grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles and cousins. Christmas day brunch was spent with my oldest daughter and her family. There was quiet conversations, a time where gifts were opened, a meal featuring everyone’s favorites and a time of games that were played.

Between Christmas and New Year my daughter from Georgia and her three sons came up to visit for a few days. I love how much my four daughters desire to spend time together and how very hard they work to make sure that their children have as close a relationship as possible. All nine of my grandchildren ages one to seventeen have a very special connection and love to spend time with each other several times a year.

Ferree Hardy challenged widows to dress up a special jar and put it some place where it can be seen every day. Before going to bed at night, write down one blessing that has occurred that day. I have decided to take that challenge as one way to help redirect my focus on life and to tell my heart to beat again.

I do not know just how God is going to change my focus from death to life nor just how He is going to restore life and joy to me, but I do know that He continues to speak to my heart and will not shake His head at me in shame or disgust. Yes, I struggle every day with so many things. Yet, God continues to gather me up in His arms and assure me that He “gets it“, He loves me and will never ever leave me or forsake me.

In what ways has God been working in your life to help you tell your heart to beat again? Listen as remarried widower Danny Gokey shares the song Tell Your Heart to Beat Again.

Broken like you’ve never been before
The life you knew in a thousand pieces on the floor
Words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never going to get back to the you you used to be.Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace
Yesterdays a closing door you don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
Tell your heart to beat againBeginning just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now, love’s healing hands will pull you through
So take one step, look back up
See the rise and feel the sun
Because your stories far from over and your journey’s just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace
Yesterdays a closing door you don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
Tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak and every scar
Be a picture to remind you, who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
This moment He is working everything out for your good

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace
Yesterdays a closing door you don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
Tell your heart to beat again
Your heart to beat again