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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God Prepared Me to be a Widow

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Tricia Lott Williford who is the author of And Life Comes Back (her widow story), Let’s Pretend We’re Normal (single parenting) and her newest book You Can Do ThisThere were several enlightening moments, but in the second part of the interview when interviewer Rabbi Eric Walker began methodically and very carefully expounding on what happened to Tricia as a 4th grade girl, he opened up a whole new way for Tricia to look back on her life and see what God has been doing.

I began to wonder if God had done anything in my own life to prepare me to be a widow. What I am seeing is really quite amazing and I decided to share those things with you.

I was brought into the world by parents who fell in love with God a few years later. He became the focus of their lives and they daily sought after Him. Their example drew me to Christ and I accepted Him as my personal Savior at the age of nine. Though my faith was shattered the moment I lost my husband, that same faith is what has kept me from giving up on life and on God even in the midst of all of my questions.

My mother loved life no matter what challenges were thrown at her. She was a strong woman who never ran from hard things. In fact, she embraced them and learned from them. My memories of her serve as an example to me now. If she could be here and say anything at all to me now, it would be, “You can do this, Candy! You can do this!”

God designed me with an introverted personality that does not need another person around to energize me. Even as a young girl, I enjoyed being alone in my bedroom. I can see how that shaped me and prepared me to live life without a husband.

I was also given a voracious love for reading that helps me feed my soul. Not a day goes by that you don’t find me reading something. That love allowed me early on to seek out books written by other widows which, in turn, affirmed what I was feeling and am experiencing, showed me I am not alone in what I am going through and encourages me to continue on. Reading also allows me to travel to other places in my mind without the need for money. Certain books are like friends who draw you in, share their lives with you, and let you know that life can go on.

Despite being an introvert, God gave me a strong will and a desire to keep going even when I am too tired to go on and so very sad that my husband is no longer here doing life with me. That will keeps me from throwing up my hands and saying, “I quit!”

When I was seventeen years old, my parents moved our family of six from the Gulf coast of South Texas to the vast prairie land of Alberta, Canada. That move opened my eyes and showed me that even when change in my life happens that is out of my control, there is life afterwards. It may not look like the life that I had imagined for myself, but it can swing wide the doors of new ways of doing things and new heights to climb that reveal more strengths than I thought that I had.

As I continue to look back at my life, I come to the place where God gave me a husband who was always faithful and true to me and who always loved me unconditionally. He was my earthly picture of the love of God.

Those thirty-six plus years with Bob taught me many things that I would not have otherwise learned. Bob could fix anything around the house. From watching him, I learned how to problem solve and how to use tools. I never knew that I could do those things, though, until I became a widow. I draw on those resources so much now. He also saved us much money on car repairs. I learned that certain noises or issues can mean certain things. That makes me very aware now of any changes in the function of my car. I can’t actually make the repairs, but I know when my car needs to be taken care of by a reputable mechanic.

God also gave me a husband who had the forethought and wisdom to make preparations to take care of me should he go first. I cannot tell you how often I thank God for that and what a tremendous blessing that is to me.

The extended family that God designed for me also prepared me for being a widow. I have two aunts and uncles that love the Lord and have never turned their backs on Him. Their stories of what God has done and continues to do for them in their troublesome times are my inspiration. Their strengths and determination are my examples to keep on keeping on. I also have a special cousin who really understands who I am as a person. That gift alone is priceless.

Wisdom is another gift God prepared for me. During those early months of my first year of grief when the pain was so bad and the widow fog was so thick, I had the wisdom to know that I needed professional help to deal with complicated grief. This was the first time in my life that I admitted that I needed help and that was no small thing. When you come to the end of yourself, you have to find a way to go on and you cannot do that alone.

My relationship with God was never more close than it was the year leading up to Bob’s death. Looking back on my life, I can see that was preparing me to know God on a much deeper level and established a oneness with Him that I would need as a widow. Yes, there were times of great darkness when I could neither see nor feel God with me. Now I can see that He was there all along carrying me. God continues even now to carry me when I can’t walk, to walk beside me when I’m able to get back up on my feet and to be faithful to me every precious moment of my life.

Take the time to look back on your own life to see how God has prepared you for this place of widowhood. It’s am amazing exercise that will strengthen your faith. I also encourage you to listen to Tricia Lott Williford’s interview with Rabbi Walker and to read all three of her books.

 

Identity or Assignment?

“Being faithful to God doesn’t mean staying in one place, letting our feet get stale. It’s understanding we have different assignments during different times in our lives. Our identity doesn’t change, but our assignment does change. The moment I make my assignment my identity is the moment I get into trouble. We have to realize … Continue reading

A Gentle Shift

Within the last seven months I have felt a gentle shift in my life. It began with the thought that maybe it’s time to think about getting a puppy as a companion. My daughters had all suggested to me many times in these last years that this might be something good for me, but I resisted that idea because I had a great fear of the possibility of loving something, or in this case one of God’s creatures, and losing it. I would not even give the idea a moment of consideration.

I suppose with this shift comes even more acceptance that this truly is my life now and I need to look forward more than backwards. There is truly no way for me to ever forget the life that I lived with my husband Bob nor the dreams that I had of us growing old together and being there for each other as we aged. But the time that God had planned for Bob on this earth was much shorter than either of us could have ever surmised. He has gone on to Glory while I remain here on this earth to live out the rest of my planned days.

Beginning in the second year of my widowhood and continuing on into my fifth year, the thought foremost in my mind was that I had to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Why am I still here? What is God’s purpose for me now? How do I really LIVE the life that I have been given? What do I do to fill my days doing things that are purposeful and meaningful? What do I do to feel like I belong now? How do I not feel like a third wheel in every situation I am in? How do I feel like I am not that sore thumb that sticks out? What does it take to go from that woman who feels like she has a big red “W” on her forehead to that single woman whose face shines from walking and talking with God all throughout her days?

These were the questions that continuously plagued me as they swirled around and around in my head depleting me of energy and frustrating me because the answer were not forthcoming. So, I decided to let all of those questions go the best that I could and just be still and wait. I am finding out that God doesn’t seem to want to answer all of my questions at one time. He probably knows that it would be too overwhelming for me. In fact, there may be some questions that He won’t answer. Instead, slowly like the turtle who creeps from one side of the highway to the other He allows a shift in my thinking and feelings that begin to gradually guide me forward.

It has taken me these last seven months to begin to even act on that shift. I have meticulously researched breeders for the type of puppy that I would like to have (female toy schnauzer) and have narrowed it down to two possibilities – both out of state. This week I will talk by phone to the breeder that lives the closest to me in order to get a feel for how we might work together and to ask more direct questions.

Tomorrow someone from one of the local fence companies will come to give me an estimate for putting up a small pet fence around my back patio. I wait for a return call from another fence company so that I can schedule a 2nd estimate with them in order to make a good decision. I already have a list of necessary questions that I got online to ask each representative.

I have read much about housebreaking, crate training, vet needs, obedience training as well as listened to online videos on each subject. List making and narrowing down exactly what puppy supplies are really needed has been completed. Vet research commenced and I found a wonderful small pet veterinarian that is a little over a mile from my house. He also just happens to have the best prices in town for his services.

My youngest brother’s help has been enlisted and I have sought his advice in several areas. He has owned a toy schnauzer for years. It’s good for me to have him walk alongside me in this new venture and encourage me on the days that I get scared about it all and wonder what in the world I am doing. This is a big step, but I have a feeling that it can be a step that will be beneficial emotionally and help not only to fill my days, but provide some good companionship.

Why does this new venture frighten me? Is it because I will once again become a caregiver taking on the responsibility of the care of the life of another being? Is it the realization that in order for me to have a loving, obedient pet, I must be committed and consistent to its training for a year? Is it that perfectionism tendency that I have that I might not chose the right breeder or the puppy whose adult size will be right and whose personality will be gentle and laid-back like this introvert needs? Is it just all the fears of the unknown?

In all honesty, it’s all of those thing and if I allow my mind to dwell on those uncertainties, I can very easily draw back into my shell, shut down and decide that I am just not brave enough to move forward.

Yet, if I do that, I might just miss an asset that could improve my life as a widow. So, I am stepping forward in trepidation with much prayer for exact direction in each and every decision that will need to be made in the next few months and trusting that this shift that God began in my heart those seven months ago is going to bring something special into my life.

Have you felt a shift in your life as a widow? If so, tell me about it. How did you feel? What new direction did you go?

Who Was He?

collage-of-bobs-lifeNovember 10th, 2009 – the day our lives changed forever. Bob finished his earthly course and stepped into the presence of his Lord and Savior. The 36 years, 4 months and 10 days of the book of my life as a wife abruptly closed and a new book entitled Just You and I, Lord began. For seven years the chapters have been about brokenness, questions, uncertainties and fears. Woven all throughout those chapters has been the love of God, rebirth of a different kind of relationship with Him, learning to stand up for myself, doing things that I never dreamed I could do, taking the time to process through things that hurt me instead of stuffing them down deep inside my heart……and on and on.

Every year reflecting back is a part of the days and weeks leading up to November 10th. Who was Bob Feathers? The best way to answer that question is to take out the beautiful leather Bible that I was given from the men in the Emissions Lab at Nissan North America. Bob had been the lab manager and had two shifts of men under him. Those men became like family members to him. To say that he cared for each and every one of them dearly would be an understatement. Every night as we prayed together before going to sleep, Bob would pray for them all by name — not just first name, but first and last name. Every December he asked me to bake dozens and dozens of a variety of homemade cookies for them as his love gift to them. When his diet had to change during his last few years there, he ordered bags and bags of trail mix to hand out.

Being in the managerial position was extremely stressful, but Bob did his very best to take into consideration what was going on in each man’s personal life and to encourage them not only personally but professionally. His love and care became evident after his death when those men presented me with a beautiful leather Bible. Engraved on the front bottom right corner are the words “Robert Feathers/Friend”. One of the men that Bob had worked with from the very beginning sent me a note that means more to me than anything and so greatly describes who Bob was:

Bob loved all of you very much. I can still remember the photograph Bob kept on his desk at work of his 4 daughters (Leah, Annissa, Charity & Tshanina). He was so very proud of each of you. He was always talking about his children and his loving wife. Candy – you were the perfect wife for Bob. Bob knew how blessed he was in this life, and how blessed he would be after this life. He is in peace now, and I know that is difficult. I admired, truly admired Bob for the man that he was, for the way he lived his life, for the way he loved his family, for the ethics and his morals, for so many different reasons. He was a great man.

There were four other young men that Bob greatly loved and they were his sons-in-law. After all, he knew that these men were the ones whom he had entrusted the love and care of his four most precious possessions – his daughters. These were the men that would help raise his grandchildren and be the physical and spiritual leaders of their homes. Once a year when all four men were in town together, Bob would take them aside and just talk to them about life, what it means to be a husband, what it means to be a father and, most importantly, how to have a relationship with God. How much more he could say to them now after living in heaven for these last 7 years!

At the time of his death, there were four grandsons and one granddaughter. He loved them with all of his heart. He would talk to me about how he wanted to teach the boys how to repair small engines so that they would always have the knowledge to keep their lawn mowers and weed eaters running. He loved to take them up on his lap and ride them around our country yard on the John Deere riding mower. Letting them steer was the highlight of their day. Our granddaughter Elizabeth looked so much like her mother Leah that Bob nicknamed her “Little Leah”. Those grandchildren each came up to the hospital to show him their Halloween costumes nine days before his death. Bob made sure that he had some candy to give to each one of them because food was his love language and he wanted them to know that no matter how very sick he was, he loved them. Now there are 8 grandsons. Bob would be in his element for sure!

Our four daughters were Bob’s most valuable treasures entrusted to him by God to lead, guide and direct. They meant more to him than anything else in this world. He was so proud of the grown women, wives and mothers they had become. I wish he could know what they are like now seven years later. His chest would swell with love and thankfulness for their personal relationships with God, the way that they love on and care for their husbands, how they work so hard to train their children, how they love on me, their wisdom, their understanding, and how they love others as much as he did.

Bob wasn’t perfect. Neither am I. You could say that we grew up together after marrying at ages 20 and 21. I never once worried that he would not provide for me or our daughters. Never once did the thought that he might leave me enter my mind. I trusted him implicitly. A better picture of Christ’s unconditional love I could not have had. Because I loved/love Bob so deeply, I grieve deeply. Not a day goes by that he is not on my mind. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell God how very much I miss him and how much it still hurts to live without him. What a gift it was for me to have experienced a love like that with my one and only! What a privilege it was to care for him and walk with him through those last dark days of his life.

Now I walk through my days with THE ONE – my Lord and Savior – and look forward to the day when I see Him and Bob face to face.

Dating and Remarriage: From a Widow’s Heart

Through my blog and several different private widow groups that I have joined, I have met and made long distance friends with many widows. Three of them have married this year and a fourth one, whom I met via one of my cousins and an aunt, just got engaged. I love the way that Suzanne Russell has shared her thoughts throughout her widow journey. Her words so wonderfully express exactly what her heart is feeling. How very happy I was when she shared last week that God has brought another man into her life and that they are getting married! Here is her story beginning with her first love story in her own words:

Ken and I met as counselors at a YMCA Camp in the Smoky Mountains. He had just graduated from UT Knoxville and grew up in East Tennessee. We married after he enlisted in the Air Force in 1974. His career spanned public recreation, the gas pipeline industry and health care facilities management and oversight. We spend the greater part of our 40 years together raising two children in Texas. He was a man who lived his life loving God’s Word and loving people.

We had a wonderful marriage. He died suddenly from a heart attack in April 2014.

Tom and Ken are so different. It amazes me. I’ve only had two men tell me they loved me. And shortly thereafter ask me to marry them. The same love resonated in them both. I am happy. I am grateful. And I am humbled by my Father’s love toward me. Marrying at my age is not without complications. But I am so joyful to have the opportunity to love and be loved again that the complications are there, but together you find your way. And it’s good.

The Pen

I don’t really know why i bought it.

It was a beautiful thing. The wood expertly turned and polished. My friend Richard made it.

But after I came home and actually used it to write, I realized it was too heavy for my hand. It was a man’s pen. Except I no longer had a man to use it.

But, it was beautiful. So I kept it and gradually began using it to underline verses and make notes in my journal.

One day, about a year ago, I held it out in front of me on upturned palms and said, “Lord, this is a man’s pen. I have no idea if it is your will to bring another man into my life. But if you do, then this belongs to  him.”

I still used it, and sometimes I would smile and think, “Who am I keeping this for?” Seriously? It’s not a simple thing to meet someone and fall in love. But looking out on my third year of widowhood, I thought, “Why not?”

My sister Michele said, “Get online. You might meet a Tom Hanks!” Seriously? Although I did miss messing with a man’s mind…

Am I getting too long here?

I met some real characters and had dates with some very nice men. Suzanne was popular. In a word, Geezerbait! But none, I told my friend Lizzo, were “pen-worthy”. I even had a standard copy & paste response for unwanted attention. And I wanted a tall guy. The taller the better. For once in my life I wanted to feel like a shrimp.

And he had to follow the rules. I felt it honored the Lord and Ken’s memory to remain chaste while being chased. 🙂 Surprisingly it comes up pretty quick in the conversation.

Shall I go on?

My social life was definitely on an uptick. Even my granddaughter, Charly, felt compelled to give me some rules for dating. They are epic, and yes, I’ve broken a few.

I got an email one night from a guy who was pretty interesting. But a whole inch shorter than me. I began to look for my copy & paste response, but something made me write him back expressing my interest while sharing the fact I would likely tower over him if I wore my heels.

This is what he said:

“Suzanne. I know that my appreciation for you will be just as you are, all 70 fabulous inches. If you know 69 is not going to do it for you, I respect that and suggest that you put something in your blurb. If you think it might be fine depending on the man, then let’s go to the Contra Dance on Monday night where you can dance with every age and every height and call it fun.”

That was a good answer! I went dancing.

And out to dinner. And movies. And hiking. And paddle boarding. And kayaking. And festivals….

Because I was spending so much time with Thomas, all the other guys were systematically getting thrown under the bus.

You’ve go to be getting bored by now. I never write this much…

I caught glimpses…Of him concentrating on his scrabble tiles. Hosting a small dinner party. Laughing at my movie pick and watching it anyway. Staring straight into my eyes and grinning while swinging me at the dances.

I knew he was becoming serious. Was I? I tell people I love them all the time, but I couldn’t tell Thomas. It would have opened a door that had been shut since Ken died.

Not a problem for him. He came out swinging and told me flat out he loved me. I just smiled and said nothing. Poor guy. Thomas would not get off the bus. He was riding up front, grinning for all he was worth!

I warned him the vetting process for me would be brutal. And span several states. He said, “Drag me wherever you want. I want Suzanne.” Another good answer.

I loved Ken. No. I love Ken. I know what comes with saying it out loud to a man. It’s foundational, taking things to another level and cutting off all escape routes.

Father, who am I looking for? One of Jesse’s tall sons? Thomas has a heart bigger and taller than many men. when he tells me I’m beautiful, when he tells me he loves me….I believe him.

I told him I love him not long after he gave another good answer to a deeply personal revelation. It was so good to finally say what I had been feeling. Nice. So very nice. A relief.

So. About a week later. After a great day trip to Chattanooga. Seeing Rock City, visiting my cousins and stopping by Ken’s grave, he says – “Marry me Suzanne.”

Jeepers.

What did I say? Thomas says I stalled.

What would people say?

Thomas: “Your friends will think what they will and tell you they are happy for you.”

At home later that night I prayed. My Father’s blessing was what I needed. I love my friends and they love me. Yet here is a man who had the courage to offer himself to me 24/7 for the rest of his life.

I told him he would have an answer.

The next time we met, he told me he heard my hesitation and knew the confidence I had in his faith and walk with Christ was of great importance. He wanted me to have it and did not want to pressure me.

I handed him the pen.

Lizzo: “Gene! Sue gave him the pen!”

Gene: “The pen? What pen? And what’s the significance?”

Lizzo: “It’s almost more significant than Thomas asking her to marry him!”

Gene: “Sue’s getting married?”

Yes. I guess I am. 🙂

My Sacred Journey

In his book It’s Your Call: What Are You Doing Here, Gary Barkalow talks about the journey of life. I want to share this with you in first person.

“My life is a long journey to a sacred place (a mystery) for a sacred purpose that passes through a myriad of places and seasons that will include joy and abundance as well as weeping and drought which will bring me from one level of strength to a greater level of strength as I am walking along with God.

If I am to find my calling, the intention of my life, I must become oriented–I must find my true north. I must sit still and clear from my navigational equipment (my heart) the inaccurate, invalid maps and errors and triangulate to the three universal coordinates: story, desire, and journey.

STORY: I must continually remember that more is going on than I can see (there is a greater story), the stakes are higher than I’ve been told (I live on a battleship, not a cruise liner), and I am far more than I believe (I am the only one in the spiritual realm who underestimates the power of my life). The theme of my story is overcoming and becoming.

DESIRE: The good news is that what I was created to do in the greater story is what I most want to do–it is written on my heart in the form of my desires: ‘It is God who is producing in you both the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him’ (Philippians 2:13 ISV). I must also continually be aware not only of the story I am living in, but of my desires.

JOURNEY: In addition, I must always remember that there is a process, a progression, a journey that all people must take in becoming who they truly are and in recognizing the role they are to play. And I must remember, as essential and powerful as these reference points are, beyond them are things that only God can reveal about my life. God wants to be intimately involved in my journey of becoming and because of His desire for my life to become what it was destined to be, He must and will speak to me personally.”

So many times you will hear a widow equate her life after loss as her journey or grief journey. That’s exactly what it is. It’s time of shifting and changing, twists and turns, moving forward and at times, falling back. But, the wonderful thing about a widow’s journey if she has accepted Christ as her own person Savior is that she is not walking her journey alone. Yes, we feel so alone so many times because we cannot see a physical image walking alongside us and that is very hard. We long for the hugs and intimate touches that we have lost. But, I have experienced those heart feelings that comfort me on my journey–those “I love you, Candy” in the form of the realization of blessings that come my way each and every day if I look hard enough for them.

My journey is sacred and like no other. It’s a holy journey that God has entrusted me to travel. And so is yours, my dear widow friend. It’s a place of overcoming all the obstacles of life without your spouse and becoming exactly the woman that God created and designed you to be. Keep going, girls! Never give in and never give up! The journey may be a winding one that goes through dark forests at times. Keep in mind that God’s Word is a lamp that is lighting your pathway. He wants you to overcome and become.

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.

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)

Glimpse of Heaven

We said good-bye at the small country airport where I boarded a commuter plane bound for Pittsburgh. There I would make a connecting flight that would take me home. Nine months earlier we met or should I say collided as I slid into home base during a college work scholarship baseball game. He was determined to get me out. I was determined to score a run for the team. The results were torn ligaments in my right leg and that was the beginning of our friendship that quickly blossomed into a forever kind of love.

Four months later we were engaged. Six months after that we said our “I do’s”. Our love was strong from the beginning. Before we married, we made a pact that no matter what problems we would encounter or what disagreements we might have, we would always work through them. When you put two stubborn and imperfect people together, you are bound to have conflicts. But, that stubbornness also fueled our resolve to love each other in good times and in bad, whether we had money or not and in sickness or in health.  All of those situations came up in our marriage. We made it through the thirty six years, four months and ten days that God gifted to us to be together.

When God creates someone just for you and allows you to meet when it is just the right time, the love that comes out of that is the greatest love that a person can ever know on this earth. Yet, that love is only a glimpse of the love that God has for us. So many times I try to look deep into my mind and heart to fathom what the Father’s love for me is like and find that it is so far beyond my imagination that it can sometimes become frustrating.

Resting in Bob’s love totally and completely trusting that he loved me and me only was easy. He never gave me any reason at all to think otherwise. There was great comfort in that kind of love knowing that I was his and he was mine. I realize now that many people never truly experience a love like that. In hindsight I see what a priceless gift Bob gave me when he promised himself to me on this day forty-three years ago. When you love like that, you never dream that your lives together won’t go on forever.

The beauty of us both knowing Christ and accepting Him as our personal Savior is knowing that one day I will see Bob again. The joy and anticipation that my heart feels about that is beyond words. This is the man that was my one and only. He was the love of my life. We’ve been separated by death for a little over six and a half years now. The longest we had ever been apart was for a week. Yet, how much more will be the glorious wonder when I step over to the other side and see my Savior face to face! This is the One who formed me in my mother’s womb and created me to be just the way that I am. He is the One who has loved me from the instant of my beginning, who constructed Bob just for me, who brought us together, walked with us throughout all of our married life and who carried us both together to the end of Bob’s life.

My becoming a widow did not surprise my Savior at all. He knew it would be a part of my life. He knew how much losing that great earthly love would break my heart. He didn’t need to ask me “Candy, are you going to be alright?” like Bob did two days before he died. The struggle to “be alright” has been great and is harder some days than others. Bob’s physical presence is gone, but his love for me goes on in so many different ways. God’s physical presence has never been seen by me, but His love for me has become much more real now that it is just Him and I.

Love given is the greatest gift a person can ever experience. To be loved is to be given a glimpse of heaven. My heart is so full as I close my eyes, go back June 22nd, 1973 and re-experience all the beautiful and wonderful emotions of that day. But, it’s nothing compared to all the glories that are yet to be revealed when my faith becomes sight and I finally see the One who loves me with the greatest love of all – an everlasting love.

Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?

Refrain:
Face to face I shall behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!

Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.

What rejoicing in His presence,
When are banished grief and pain;
Death is swallowed up in vict’ry,
And the dark things shall be plain.

Face to face—oh, blissful moment!
Face to face—to see and know;
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ who loves me so.