Lessons from Hope

A year ago I began feeling like it was time to crack open my heart a bit. Since the deaths of my husband and parents I have built up very high walls around my heart to protect myself from more pain and possible loss.

After months of researching dog breeders, I chose a breeder in Texas and put down a deposit on a future toy Schnauzer puppy.

As I waited on the birth of just the right female, I made preparations for her much like you make preparations for the birth of a child. My emotions were a mixture of quiet expectation and yet fear of opening up my life to a new living thing. I began contemplating and praying about a name for her. I wanted a significant name that would be a good reminder of something I need in my life. On the day that the name “Hope” was suggested, I knew that was the right name because hope is something that I need to be reminded of every day.

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my HOPE in God! I will praise Him again–my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:5 

For I HOPE in You, O Lord: You will answer, O Lord my God.  Psalm 38:15

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? HOPE in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose HOPE is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them: who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises up those who are bowed down. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects the strangers. He supports the fatherless and the widow, but He thwarts the way of the wicked.  Psalm 146:5-10

This I recall to my mind; therefore, I have HOPE. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I have HOPE in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:21-25

…..we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the HOPE set before us. This HOPE we have as an anchor of the soul, a HOPE both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has enters as a forerunner for us. Hebrews 6:18-20

Finally the day arrived for Hope to fly to me from Dallas. The plan had been for a lady to hand carry her on the plane here to me, but hurricane Harvey disrupted those plans and the carrier was trapped in her home in Houston where all the airports were closed. So Hope had to fly from Dallas in a crate underneath in the pressurized area in the belly of the plane. Needless to say, when she arrived she was traumatized and a very needy puppy for the first three days. All that crying and neediness made me question whether or not I had made the right decision. Here I was a caregiver again! I began asking the Lord to show me what lessons I needed to learn from this little puppy and here are a few things that I have learned from her.

TRUST – Hope completely trusts me. Whenever we are training together, she keeps her eyes focused on nothing but me. Her sole care in in my hands. Oh, how much I need to do this in my relationship with Christ! Trust is something that was shattered the day Bob went to heaven because I couldn’t possibly see how this could work out for good for me. As time has gone on, I am slowly rebuilding my trust in God.

LOVE – Hope’s greatest desire is to be with me and to spend time with me. My goal should be to have that same kind of relationship with God and I have found that in these last almost 8 years alone, my relationship has become a deeper one. I am much more aware of God in the little things every day. He’s the one I talk to all of the time and my love for Him has grown greater even in the midst of my grief.

PLEASE – Hope wants to please me. Her greatest joy is to hear me praise her and exuberantly tell her, “GOOD GIRL, Hope! GOOD GIRL!” She wags her little stub of a tail as hard as she can and joyfully wiggles her body all over in excitement. Does pleasing God bring me joy like that? It should certainly be something I strive for even though I know that because I am human, I can never totally and perfectly please God.

DISOBEDIENT – As we have gotten to know each other better and Hope has become more comfortable with me, there are times when she chooses not to listen to my commands. She definitely knows what I am asking of her because she is looking right at me when I am telling her what to do. She’ll even start to sit and then quickly gets up before sitting completely.  She is either slow to obey or will not obey.  How like me this is! I can’t understand God’s ways and think that I know better than He does what is best for me. I find myself many times rebelling in my heart against His plan for my life now because it is not what I would have chosen at all.

COMFORTER – Little 5 pound Hope has become a comforter to me. She senses when my grief is great and will lie right over my heart. To me this is a picture of my comforter the Holy Spirit who prays the words for me when all I can do is groan with the deep pain I feel in my heart when I am missing Bob so much. A good, hard cry releases that grief and gives me a sense of relief until the next time grief ambushes me.

IN THE MOMENT – Dogs live in the moment. Hope is not thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. I have always been a person that goes back and rethinks what happened yesterday that disturbed me and what might happen tomorrow. Living in the moment is something that I have begun to work on. It’s hard to keep my mind on the here and now, but I am finding that it makes life so much easier and less stressful.

One big surprise that has happened since Hope came to live with me 3 months ago is that I am sleeping 6-7 hours straight through on a majority of my nights. One of the biggest problems most widows have to contend with is lack of sleep. I would sleep 2-3 hours and then wake up before going back to sleep again only to repeat that same scenario. That is not restful sleep and has affected me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I tried everything but medication. However, it wasn’t until Hope arrived that this problem has been very much helped. Now, that just doesn’t make any sense to me and I can’t really figure out why she has made the difference, but she has and I am so thankful.

I’m sure that there will be more lessons that God has to teach me through Hope. Meanwhile, I will continue to be thankful for her – even when her daily times of puppy craziness are over the top. As soon as she works that energy out and tucks herself up against me in quietness and stillness, I know she is good for me. Who knew that a puppy can teach a widow so many things!

 

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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.