Living in the Moment?

Pullig out hair

I bet you expect this to be a post about how we should enjoy all the many moments that make up this crazy life of ours. Easy to live in the past or the future and not appreciate what we have in the “now.”

That is absolutely a wonderful concept and one that I have written about in the past. This post, however, is NOT about that kind of “living in the moment.” My version in this particular post will have a completely different twist!

To set up just how this new revelation made its way into my life recently, I have to share some of what I’ve been experiencing for the past month or two.

I’m working diligently on the launch of my book, Cultivating Compassion – Practical Advice as You Walk a Friend through a Season of Loss. Let me just say that the writing of the book was the EASIEST part of this process!

Enter the world of self-publishing on Amazon. Honestly, it’s a sub-culture unto itself. But I am taking a course to help me learn all the ins and outs of Amazon’s algorithms and how to utilize them most effectively.

Unfortunately, that means LOTS of new technology for someone who often describes herself as walking around with a black technology cloud over her head. Yep, that’s me. Not too beneficial for this stage of things.

So, I have been banging my head against the wall, taking one step forward and two steps back, and any other adage you can think of to describe a high level of frustration and a very low level of productivity. On more than one occasion, it has led to tears and the temptation to throw in the towel. (Hey, another adage!)

All that led me to the realization that I was living TOO MUCH in those moments. I was letting the frustration of the daily struggles color my entire outlook on life. It caused me to take a huge step backwards, but in a good, self-reflecting sense.

So, I had to ask myself, “What difference will this particular problem make in the scope of eternity?” Might it delay the launch of the book? Maybe. Might it cause a few restless nights? For sure! But, I had to remind myself, once again, that this ministry belongs to God. And His purposes for it will go forward regardless of any technical glitches I may run into.

And here’s the other thing – God, the ALL-KNOWING God, has the answers to every one of those technology problems. He’s got this. And He’ll lead me to answers and resolutions in His timing.

So, I needed to STOP living in those moments of frustration and towel-throwing, and remember just Who it is I’m serving. Keep my eye on the big picture, knowing that I’m not in charge. AND, keep my eye on the eternal picture. All these frustrations pale in comparison to what’s ahead at the end of this earthly life.

I pray you can also learn to cherish the beautiful moments, but hand over your difficult times to a good God.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Forever Grief

Forever Grief Image

Do those words strike fear in your heart? Are you tempted to send someone to my house to check up on me? Have I lost my grip on reality? I hope not!

I had the opportunity this past weekend to speak to a group of church volunteers whose ministry is walking alongside those who are hurting. Very similar to Stephen Ministers for those of you familiar with that organization. I am always in awe of those who deliberately choose to step into another person’s pain. So, hats off to them and any of you who do that!

I asked the attendees to fill out a comment card after my presentation and one of the questions is, “What most surprised you?” MY surprise this time is the number of people who wrote down “forever grief” as their answer.

I DO talk about this concept, so let me give you the cliff notes version here and end, as I always strive to, on a hopeful note.

I don’t believe EVERYthing or person we grieve results in “forever grief.” I’m not grieving all the pets I’ve lost through the years. Nor am I still grieving most/all of my relatives or friends. In fact, while I do certainly miss my parents, I wouldn’t even claim that I have a forever grief associated with their losses.

Almost without exception, my memories of these past losses make me smile and feel warm on the inside, despite how deeply I grieved the deaths at the time.

So just what does constitute a “forever grief?” Guess what? YOU get to decide! Yep, no one can tell you what or whom you grieve forever, and what you “should” eventually move on from. Just like grieving in general, forever grief is an incredibly personal thing. No definition. No judgment. Just compassion.

But I’d still like to use a couple of examples to dive into this a little more deeply. Virtually every parent I’ve talked with who has lost a child experiences forever grief, even if they don’t label it as such. In fact, I chatted with a 91-year-old woman this week who lost a daughter decades ago, and yet, she still teared up telling me about it.

Friends of mine who have been widows for decades also tell me that it doesn’t really get better. While, my own widow experience is just under two years old, I can see how the deep love I had for Dale, resulting in the deep grief I feel over his death, could certainly become MY forever grief.

So based on many conversations I’ve had and on my own experience, here’s the radical statement I want to throw out there. I think sometimes, it’s OK to grieve for the rest of your life!

I’m not saying that’s ALL you do, but I think we should stop trying so hard just to get past the pain. And stop trying so hard to move others through their pain. That should NOT be our ultimate goal. Because what happens then is we stuff the pain down only to have it pop up somewhere down the road in an unhealthy manner.

And achieving a state of no pain and only happiness isn’t even biblical. In John 16:33, it says, “In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

We know what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and has tainted everything from that point on. Pain and sorrow and death are some of the consequences we suffer because of that.

And as long as we live in this fallen world, we will always have loss and heartache and grieving. And yes, I believe some of it will last forever. So, what do we do with THAT?

First of all, we acknowledge that God does His best and most permanent work through our trials, so we look to see how He wants to deepen our faith and cause us to trust Him more. And we see THAT for the blessing that it is.

We learn how to live our life in spite of this trial. We find a new normal. We don’t necessarily move on. We don’t forget. Perhaps we don’t stop grieving. We are now different people because of this loss. On one hand, perhaps forever grieving. But on the other hand, molded by God for His purposes through this pain.

And finally, we look forward to the day when God makes everything right again. Maybe it’s when He calls you home. Maybe it’s when Jesus returns. But make no mistake, God WILL make it all right. Because, through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, He HAS overcome the world. Therein lies our hope. And our joy!

Let that hope and that joy add balance to YOUR life that is likely struggling with SOMETHING. Maybe it’s minor irritations, maybe it’s crises of various types. Perhaps you’re in the midst of grieving even now. And maybe you’re still suffering through YOUR forever grief.

Allow yourself to feel the loss. But always be reminded of God’s love for you and for His perfect plan, and let that bring you much joy!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
James 1:2-3

Strong Enough to Grieve

Gods strengthThat’s kind of a strange title, isn’t it? It’s been rumbling around in my brain for the past few days, so I decided to see where this goes!

At the heart of this issue is the question, “Do ‘strong’ people grieve less than ‘weak’ ones?” A few months after Dale’s death, a good widow friend called me. Honestly, I thought I would have heard from her much sooner than that. When I gently brought that up, she said to me, “I just thought you were so strong.” To which I replied, “No one is strong enough to lose the love of their life and not grieve.”

That’s the short answer, but let’s dig a little deeper into this concept.

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time may consider me a strong person. I’ve been pretty self-sufficient for much of my life, even though Dale’s strength always undergirded our marriage. I had a career that required me to be business savvy and tough. I was the sole caregiver to 4 people over the past 20 years, including my husband. All things that require a certain level of strength.

But that’s not always a good thing. Case in point – when Dale asked my dad if he could have my hand in marriage, my dad seriously cautioned Dale about that because he thought I was a bit too headstrong! Dale said he was up to the task, and he definitely was. That conversation makes me smile even today.

And yet, 21 months after losing Dale, I don’t feel that I have exhibited any strength in this journey. I’m sad on a daily basis. I still cry over so many memories. I constantly ask God to give me HIS strength. Sometimes I can’t even attend events because it’s hard to be around families and couples when I have to go alone. I could go on and on with examples.

So, I process all of this through this blog, through the blog on my ministry site, through speaking engagements, and through book and song writing. They are the outlets for my pain. God has given me this ministry to share my journey and what He’s teaching me, with all of you.

I doubt if any of my posts would paint me as strong during this season. Becoming a widow has shone a light on how much I rely on God’s strength to get me from one day to the next. None of my own strength has been sufficient.

As I write, I often find other widows or people suffering from losses who comment that it helps them to know what I struggle with because it’s their struggle, too. Or, maybe they had some of the same hurts as me, but didn’t know how to tell anyone. So they suffered alone or in silence. Maybe they were afraid they’d be considered weak.

So I write for all of us who are suffering – especially those who don’t feel equipped to share their pain. I don’t think that makes me strong. I think it makes me honest, and often vulnerable. But if it helps shed some light on these difficult days, then I’m grateful God has called me to this.

Back to the original question. So while it might seem logical that “strong” people don’t grieve as deeply, the reality is that no amount of our own strength is enough to get through a deep loss.

Worth repeating – for me, this loss just shines a light on my need for God and His strength. The only “strong” thing I do is face my grief. Thanks for listening.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

How’s Your Life Balance?

Who ISN’T trying to find some balance in their lives nowadays? I think our schedule-crazy society works against nearly everyone, including kids. I’m blown away by all the options available to the kiddos and secretly wish they didn’t have so many. I loved my carefree childhood days where the only commitments I had were swimming lessons for a few weeks and Vacation Bible School. Ahhh, the good old days… (said “June Cleaver!”)

The balance I want to chat about in this post, however, isn’t that issue. It’s an idea that came to me after my prayer time this morning.

I continue to struggle with sadness every day, and the 20+ months of that since Dale’s death is absolutely exhausting. I’m also coming to grips with the fact that this is very much the reality of my life now and probably will be for a very long time. Hard not to focus on that when it permeates my soul daily.

So to combat that, I decided to change that focus to the “ever-popular” attitude of gratitude. Or, in other words, change the balance in my life. I’ve taken multiple stabs at that in the past year or two, but it doesn’t always “stick.”

I did begin to thank God for the blessings that are ever-present in my life today. I thanked Him for the blessed life I had for so very many years. And I am immeasurably excited about and grateful for what lies ahead in an eternity in Heaven.

So, the statistician in me took over the analysis at this point. (For those of you who haven’t heard; a statistician is someone with their head in the oven and their feet in ice water who ways, “On average, I feel fine.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. I have so few opportunities to use math humor…)

Back to the subject at hand. When I thought about how much of my past has been good and added to that the parts of my present that are good and added to that the future that will be AMAZING, guess what conclusion I came to? When eternity is part of that equation, there is barely a sliver of time that is anything but good! It must be something like 99.99999999999…. % incredible! How’s that for a new focus?

Even if your life on this earth has been full of trials and difficulties, if you know that Heaven is your future home, you too will have virtually no bad times showing up in your life balance scales.

An eternity of perfection wipes away ANY difficulties we’ve experienced in this life, no matter how plentiful they are.

Of course, it doesn’t feel like that when we’re in the middle of this present world. Only in retrospect will we come to fully understand and enjoy this glorious truth.

But it did help me to look at my pain a bit differently. Less permanent, less all-encompassing, less discouraging, less heart wrenching. It reminded me to keep fighting the good fight. Keep focusing on God’s will in my life. Keep counting my blessings. And keep my eyes on “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith” (Heb 12:2).

So, how is your life balance? Would it help to have an eternal perspective? Could you ask God to help you develop it? I’m pretty sure it’s what would honor Him the most. It will be my prayer for you.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…
2 Corinthians 4:17

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
James 4:14

“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…”

Image result for free images thespian
For those of you who are “literature literate,” you will recognize these words as the beginning of Charles Dickens’ famous “Tale of Two Cities.” I read it way back in sophomore year English class in high school.

While these words are renowned, I applied them very appropriately to my college years. No question, at the time, that’s exactly how I described my college experience to everyone! For me, it absolutely was the best of times and the worst of times. But that was [cough, cough] years ago.

I was honored to play the piano for a wedding today. It was a beautiful event – full of hope, full of love, full of gospel teaching, full of joy and full of possibilities.

It’s the first wedding I’ve attended since Dale’s death 20 months ago (tomorrow). But it wasn’t my first invitation. I haven’t been able to attend alone yet. This was easier because I camped out at the keyboard throughout the ceremony. I had other things to keep my mind occupied. And I made it through without losing it. Yea me!

But, afterwards, I was chatting with a friend and mentioned that this was my first wedding post-Dale. I commented that weddings were harder for me than funerals. My wedding was also a beautiful event – full of hope, full of love, not-quite-as-full of gospel teaching, full of joy and full of possibilities.

THAT is what makes attendance at a wedding so hard for me as a widow now. I can’t help but be transported back to that amazing day in September 1986. But what a blessing that my memory of that day is still so crystal clear. And not just the memory of the activities of the day, but the memory of all the beautiful emotions I felt so many years ago.

With 32 years in the rear-view mirror, I can see the mixture of what our marriage was. Certainly, it was times of hope, love, joy and possibilities. But it was also times of trials, challenges, selfishness and heartache. That’s exactly what marriage is – and that’s what this beautiful young couple will grow to understand over time. Marriage – and life – are a mixture of joy and sorrow.  Keeping God front and center is the key!

So, back to my conversation with my friend. As we wrapped it up, I said, “My wedding day was the best day of my life. And Dale’s funeral was the worst day of my life.”

Ta-da – Tale of Two Cities! Tale of life in this world. But that’s OK because what’s ahead for us as believers is a TRULY beautiful event – FULL of love, FULL of the Gospel (because Jesus will be there) and FULL of eternal joy. Hope fulfilled.

So, for those of you who are married, whether it’s for 3 hours as this young couple – or for 50 years, hug your spouse, tell them you love them and thank God for the work He does through your marriage.

I miss Dale every day, but I’m so grateful not only for that special day 32+ years ago, but for the journey that brought me from wedding day to funeral day and beyond. This is life. Embrace it all. The best of times and the worst of times.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16:22

Things That Are Hard to Do Alone

mattress.jpg

 

This past weekend, I got extra ambitious and decided to spray my mattress with a bottle promising to kill all the dust mites that have been eating my eyelashes for a while now. And along with that 4-hour soaking project, I also decided to flip the queen-sized mattress, like any responsible mattress owner.

I have done it a few times over the last year or two, but it’s always exhausting. On Saturday, as I was wrestling with this monstrosity, it “flipped out” and knocked my bedroom TV over, hitting the screen on the edge of the TV stand.

At first glance, it looked OK. But that night, as I was attempting to watch a little TV before dozing off, the screen looked like a really bad imitation of a Picasso painting. Yep, gonna need a new TV…

As I was contemplating the difficulty of this job, I was reminded again of how some things are hard, or even impossible to do alone. Aha! There’s a blog post topic for me! (I’m always sniffing one of those out…)

And since I spend the majority of my time alone, especially here at home, I figured it was the perfect subject matter and I should be able to have lots of ideas.

My goal was to have a humorous post for a change to balance out some of those pathetic ones I write from time to time. Because the mattress/TV thing is kind of funny, right?

So, I sat down at the computer – prayed like you know I do – and then could only think of SAD things to do alone! That’s NOT what I was looking for!

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m going to throw out a few sad things to do alone before continuing on this quest.

• Go to a movie or a restaurant.
• Go to a wedding or funeral.
• Go ANYWHERE.
• Have a non-canine/feline conversation.
• Cry on someone’s shoulder.
• Get or give a hug.
• Put up Christmas lights.

You get the idea. Yes, there are many things that are hard to do alone. That’s all the space I’m allotting for sad things.

Back to my humor quest – I turned to my best friend, Google, and entered “Things that are hard to do alone.” Surely Google had some ideas for me. Well, I was sent to a blog post from a woman in Oregon, also a widow some years back, who had written on this very subject.

It was hilarious!! I honestly laughed out loud reading it. So, I sent her an email, letting her know how much I enjoyed it and how I was writing on that exact same subject. Long story short – we are now FaceBook friends. Check out Sue’s post for a good laugh.

As much as I was tempted to plagiarize some of her ideas (and she would likely have been OK with that), I’m committed to mostly original ideas here.

So, here is my list of “not sad” things that are hard or impossible to do alone.

• Flip a queen-sized mattress without destroying any other furniture…or my back.
• Drop myself off at the front door of anyplace in the rain.
• Play Gin Rummy
• Make a toast to someone’s health
• Ride a motorcycle without being the driver.
• Win or lose an argument.
• Blame anyone else when you lose things.
• Play tennis or racquet ball.
• Get the cat in the kennel.

Now let’s do some audience participation. I’d LOVE to hear from any of my readers the FUNNY things that are hard to do alone. And please, keep it G-rated. I have the power to delete your comment…

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;
I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

My Writing “Partner”

writing handOne of the most amazing phenomenons I’ve experienced in the past year or so can only be defined as God writing through me.  I know how that must sound.  Maybe a bit cheesy.  Maybe a little too uber-spiritual.  But it’s a real and constant reminder to me of how little I contribute to this process.

This applies to the 36 blog posts I’ve written on this site beginning in February 2018, the 28 posts from the ministry site beginning last December, the 3-4 different speaking presentations I’ve written…AND a booklet I’m getting ready to self-publish.  (Stay tuned for more on that!)  I’ve even experienced this in my Christmas letters over the past couple of seasons, especially the one God wrote through me about a month after Dale’s death.

EVERY TIME I sit down to write ANYTHING, I pray first and ask God to give me His words and to help me share the message that He wants in this ministry.

Oh sure, I usually come to my computer with a basic topic for a blog post and maybe what can only be described as an extremely skeletal outline.  Usually it’s a possible title and few random ideas (likely ALSO from God…).

Sometimes these topics have been rolling around in my head for a few weeks, and other times, the idea hits me completely out of the blue with an urgency that suggests I sit down and write NOW.

That’s exactly what happened with THIS post.  I was preparing to write something for the ministry site and, as always, prayed that prayer asking God to speak through me.  And boom!  THIS topic jumped out at me!  It was essentially God telling me to share the joy and wonder of this writing miracle with my readers.  Great idea, God!

So as soon as I scheduled the ministry post, I opened up a new Word document – prayed! – and then let God do what He has so faithfully done for so many months.  He fills my mind and my soul with messages that always surprise me.  He draws analogies for me.  He leads me to scripture texts that perfectly illustrate His message.  He even brings the best images for me to use weekly.

I don’t struggle with what to say or how to say it.  I don’t have the infamous “writer’s block.”  I just start to type, and the thoughts are almost always a few steps ahead of my fingers.  It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

So, for those of you who have so faithfully encouraged me with my writing, and extoled “my” writing skills, I do appreciate it and thank you for your kind words.  But, I want to stress again that it truly is NOT me.  Yes, God may have given me some sort of command of the English language, but the end result is His – and the ultimate praise and glory belong to Him.

How can I adequately describe what this is like?  I can tell you that I cry through almost everything I write.  So, first of all, I’m generally exhausted when I’m done!  But there is such a cleansing I feel through this process.  It is truly MY substitute for Christian counseling.

I am in awe whenever I finish writing.  To know how little I have in my head when I sit down – and then to see God’s finished product?  I can think of few experiences that so clearly confirm God’s power, His love for me, His hand on THIS ministry and His involvement in the minute details of my life.  I couldn’t be more grateful or more astonished by it.  And I just wanted you to know.

You have said, “Seek my face.”

My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Psalm 27:8 ESV