Learning from Other Widows

Grace Livingston Hill, as we know her. She was one to know and never forget.

One of my strongest beliefs is that I can always always always learn something from someone that God brings into my life. During the summers of my teenage years I spent a lot of time reading Grace Livingston Hills books and still enjoy re-reading them to this day. Recently I learned that Grace was a widow and decided to see if I could find an accurately written biography. Robert Munce, who was her youngest grandson, shared her story in his book entitled Grace Livingston Hill.

Never has it been more obvious than in the last 6 years that God has every detail in our lives orchestrated before we are born. Nothing that happens takes Him by surprise. This truth is easy to see in the way that Grace’s life began and how it unfolded until the day of her transition from earth to heaven. She was raised in a home where faith and trust in God for even the littlest things were modeled and lived out before her. Both of her parents loved God, loved to write and Grace found herself loving to pour her thoughts out in word. All of this helped her to develop a strong relationship with the Lord that prepared her for her marriage to Frank Hill.

It wasn’t until twenty-five years after their marriage that Grace opened up to her daughters about the battle that Frank had during his lifetime. He had terrible headaches during his college years and was prescribed morphine tablets without being told that they were additive. There was little understanding of addiction in 1892 and no rehab centers even existed. He hid his struggle from Grace until after they were married. Frank was a pastor who deeply loved the Lord and the people he was shepherding. He was so ashamed of his addiction as he told Grace, “I’ve spent years thinking about this and I feel that as long as I’m able, I will preach and teach God’s Word and leave my personal problems in His hands. This horrible flaw in my life has helped me to understand the struggles and heartbreak in the lives of other people, and I’m sure I’m much more patient with people than I would have been had I not been plagued with this problem.”

Seven years after Grace and Frank were married, Frank died after surgery on an infected appendix leaving Grace as a widow in her thirties with two little girls to raise.

Grace felt her life had been shattered, yet she knew that in the bad, as well as the good, God had a purpose for each of His children. Still, life seemed very dark. It was a perplexing situation. She did not earn enough money from her writing to support the family. The home was the property of the church, so she had to find another home as soon as possible. The job market was bleak. There were few career jobs that would allow a woman to support a family, and Grace was not trained in any of them. The greatest pain was not the future with all its uncertainties, but the thought of a future without the love and support and companionship of Frank. Every time she thought of it, it seemed like a cold, black wave a hundred feet high was falling on her and crushing her soul.

Writing was what Grace knew and what God used to support not only her and her young daughters but her mother who became a widow less than eight months after Grace.

As Grace was churning out new books, she was fighting a spiritual battle with depression, but found victory and relief in prayer and Bible study. There was one point where she was told by her publisher “No more preachy Sunday school stuff in your manuscripts. It won’t sell to the wider audience that you are now reach to reach. Good moral principles, good winning over evil, all those things are find. But no gospel!” This was a hard blow and with God’s help she developed strategies that would make all of her goals a reality.

At one point in her widow life, Grace was very lonely and considered marriage again. She met a man who was fifteen years younger and he proposed marriage to her. After consulting several of her close friends, who all advised her not to marry, she felt that marriage was the right thing to do to provide a father and music teacher for her two daughters. This decision caused her, her daughters and her mother to go through ten years of verbal abuse with a man who never contributed a dime to support them. He finally left Grace and went back home to live with his parents. Their marriage ended in divorce.

While on a trip through New England’s beautiful countryside, Grace viewed a hillside covered completely with lovely blue flowers. Her friend told her that the flowers were called Blue Ruin because they take over causing nothing else to grow and ruin everything. Those flowers reminded Grace of her own life during her second marriage and gave her the title for another book.

After a time, Grace earned enough money to buy a small stone home with three bedrooms that later became her ongoing project turning into a large fourteen room house. Her home became a place where others could socialize, play music, talk about anything and everything, be discipled and spiritually mentored – a place of learning and respite.

As the only child, Grace had a strong sense of family and a strong desire to keep her family unit living together in her big house. The attachment Grace had to her two daughters continued even after they married and this caused friction between them. Her daughters and their husbands obliged her for a time and lived there with her until God directed them to leave. At first Grace strongly opposed their decision, but, in time, she realized that God had other plans for their lives that didn’t include keeping everyone together in her home.

Because Grace let go of her own plans for her children and allowed God to direct them, she became a tremendous influence not only on her daughters and their husbands but on her grandchildren.

At the earliest age I (her adopted grandson) can remember the love, reverence, and respect we all had for her was generated by her work ethic which made her so productive, while still fulfilling her responsibilities to God and her family. Her unbounded energy was infectious and made even the youngest of us want to perform at our highest levels. But far more valuable was the underlying peace that was instilled in us, because we all learned early that the Lord Jesus should be sovereign in our lives.

Grace was in high demand and continued her speaking engagements until she reached the age of 79. At the age of 81 she published her last book – #79. That book was written while she was very ill. Her memory was fading, but would come alive from time to time. She would write awhile and then lie down to rest before getting up again to continue typing out her last story.

Much might be said in praise of Grace Livingston Hill, for millions blessed her for the work which she had performed. They blessed her for her fine writing, they blessed her for her personal ministry to them, and they blessed her for being a friend and a mother. But if she could speak to us this afternoon from Glory, she would bid us lift our voices in praise of another — she would tell us about Jesus. If Grace were here to comment about her own work today, she would probably simply say, “Thank you, Lord, for using me.”

Living life as a widow is not easy. In fact, it’s hard. Yet, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, our hearts in tune with His, our wills submitted to His plan, there can be a peace that passes all understanding. There can be joy mixed in with our grief and sorrow. God wants to use us if we will allow Him to do that. My mother used to tell me, “God is a gentleman and will not force His ways nor His will on us“. I want to be able to look back on my time as a widow and see that it wasn’t for naught.

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The Widow’s Olympics

Watching the US Olympic trials has always been an inspiration to me, but never more than it is since becoming a widow. Every athlete has worked very hard to get to this moment in time. Parents, siblings, wives, and children have sacrificed time and money for years in order for their son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse to get to this point. Athletes began preparing as young children perfecting their sport practicing tirelessly day in and day out to make each move so routine that it becomes a natural reaction.

These men and women have dared to put themselves first for such a time as this. Such things as what types of foods they do or do not put into their bodies and how much time they spend sleeping every night is a very important part of this process. Learning how to relax and just breathe teaches them the discipline of how to zone out all other stressers around them so that full concentration can be given to the task ahead.

Some athletes have suffered injuries from which they have been forced to battle back. Some have lost a parent or another significant loved one and are having to deal with grief. Any number of life’s problems have cropped up trying to shake their focus and deter them from their goal. Their determination is shaken but not broken.

The moment of the athlete’s event is here. Everything they have worked for is over within a few minutes and sometimes only seconds of time. You can see in their eyes how completely focused they are on finishing their course. Tiny mistakes are made. Big mistakes are made. Yet, they don’t stop their ring routine, high bar routine, pommel horse routine, floor exercise, synchronized dive, swim, race….whatever it may be…until they have completed it. I find myself cheering them on yelling, “You can do it!!” Disappointment may show on their faces when mistakes are made, but they pick themselves up and keep going despite their failure to do everything perfectly.

There are those athletes, who despite the mistakes made during the Olympic trials, will make the US Olympic team and go on to complete their journey becoming an Olympic champion and medal winner. The joy that lights up their faces when they come to the end of the road that they have traveled for years with all of the ups and downs, backwards and forwards, ins and outs is such a parallel to a widow’s journey.

Then there are some athletes who make the Olympic team, but because of an injury that happens during the Olympic games know that their chance of winning is over. Yet, in spite of their sorrow they are able to find joy and rejoice with their teammates who go on to medal.

We face so many challenges that either begin when a wife becomes the caregiver for her husband or at the moment of death for those wives who lose their husbands suddenly. Agonizing grief clouds our minds and brokenness breaks our hearts. Yet, we set our faces like a flint and determine to deal with the medical bills, life insurance paperwork, wills or lack of, our husband’s personal effects, deciding whether or not to keep our home or sell it, finding a job, caring for our children at home as they are grieving, and on and on. There is a mountain of things that a widow must deal with after the death of her husband.

A widow becomes an Olympic athlete determined to keep moving forward completely focused with great determination to finish this course that we did not choose, but one that we must travel. In the midst of our great sorrow we are able to rejoice that our husband finished his race and won his “gold medal”. We picture them shouting encouragement to us from the grandstands of our “Widow Olympics”. Our husbands know that they did not marry a quitter. They want us to win and win we must no matter how hard the race.

There is the opportunity for “Olympic widows” to be a part of a team if they so choose. That team of widows, who are all at different places in their process, becomes the ones who really “get it”. The veteran members can offer advice to help the newer widows avoid pitfalls. Everyone on the team becomes a support system and cheerleader for each other.

So, keep going, my fellow widows! You can do this! We have unfinished business here on this earth. Trials of this life will get you down, but don’t allow those trials to force you to give up and completely stop without restarting. Look at your mistakes or failures as blessings that force you to take a closer look at yourself and make any changes that need to be made. Come alongside those widows who are crawling or limping through their race and encourage them. For those who have accepted Christ as your personal Savior, there is all the glory of heaven to look forward to at the end of your “Widow Olympics”.

 So then, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us, too, put aside every impediment — that is, the sin which easily hampers our forward movement — and keep running with endurance in the contest set before us,  looking away to the Initiator and Completer of that trusting, Yeshua (Jesus) — who, in exchange for obtaining the joy set before him, endured execution on a stake as a criminal, scorning the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2 Complete Jewish Bible)