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…”

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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

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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

 

 

Seasonal Lessons

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I’ve written a couple of blog posts that circled around this topic – one on this personal site (Hope of Spring) and one on the ministry site (Appreciate the Good Times), but neither one fully addressed my thoughts on this subject.

Maybe I just want to write on this topic because we’ve experienced about a 50-degree temperature swing in the past few days!  Let’s hope there’s a bit more depth to it than that…

Lately I’m hearing more and more people talk about how life is full of seasons.  I’ve been saying that myself for the past 10 years or so.  If you’re one of my younger readers, say under 40, you may not have looked at life this way yet.

But for those of us who are likely in the last half of our earthly lives, this becomes more and more evident.  And the more I thought about it, the more I saw parallels to the real weather seasons we experience.

When I was younger and I saw my life as overwhelmingly blessed, I just assumed that’s how life should be.  I certainly didn’t think of it as just a “season” of my life.  Why would I want this beautiful summer to turn into winter?

But eventually, as I experienced difficult times in my life, I started to see those parallels.  Here are some of the life lessons I now see through this “seasonal lens.”

  • Seasons are inevitable. Just as surely as the snow melts and the tulips pop through, so will we experience times of joy and times of heartache, eventually.  I now look at BOTH of those times as seasons.  It isn’t just the difficult days that I equate to a winter season – it’s everything.  We move from one to another, and maybe back and forth.
  • Seasons come to an end. Unless you live in some tropical paradise…  But here in the Midwest, we can be assured that we will NOT be buried in snow come August.  And chances are pretty high that it won’t hit 95 degrees in mid-January.  And just as we all have our favorite weather season that we never want to see come to an end, so will we want our good times to be endless.  And conversely, the winter seasons of our life do mercifully eventually come to an end, and we see that hope of Spring I wrote about earlier.
  • We don’t know how long each season will last. Every year is a bit different.  When we lived in Stillwater, MN, we had a THREE-FOOT blizzard on Halloween!  That’s right!  Go figure.  Think that made for a REALLY long winter? Absolutely!  But when we built our last home in 2000 here in Iowa, we had 80-degree days in December which made for a much shorter winter season.  And a great year to be building a new home!  Despite “The Farmer’s Almanac” predictions, no one nails it 100%.  Similarly, with your life seasons, seldom do you know how long either the good or the difficult times will last.  (But God does.)
  • Some “miniseasons” are just cold fronts or heat waves. Within the four major seasons, we often find strange phenomenon showing up such as unexpected freezes or heat waves.  They may be in and out in a couple of days, and then you return to what you expect of the season.  Sure, they break it up a bit, for better or for worse, but there’s usually not a long-lasting affect.  When you go through a few days or weeks of “the blues,” you might just be experiencing one of those cold fronts.  Hopefully, your life returns to a sense of normalcy soon.  And getting some joyful news in the middle of a tough year might just be a little heat respite for your winter-weary soul.
  • God knows every detail of the seasons. Not only is God the Author and Creator of every season in every location from the beginning of time, but He knows EXACTLY what He’s doing as He takes you through the seasons of your life.  Nothing is arbitrary.  No pain is wasted.  Every one of your days is planned.
  • Look for the beauty in each season. Of course, we all have our favorites.  I toggle back and forth between Spring and Fall being my favorites.  I love the new life that Spring brings each year, but I also marvel at the spectacular colors of the Fall.  And even if we aren’t fans of the extremes of Summer and Winter, I’m sure we have all admired some incredible beauty during those days.

What about the seasons of my life?  Do I see beauty in each of them?  Do you?  Do I appreciate my favorite life season while I’m in it?  Am I purposeful about finding the good in my difficult days?  It’s pretty hard sometimes to do either, isn’t it?   It’s so easy to take for granted our happy days – until they’re taken from us and we’re plunged into a harsh winter season.  And then it’s difficult to see how any good could come from it.

But trust God to be in each of them with you, even if you don’t sense His presence.  And know that He will never leave you in your dark days longer than necessary for Him to teach you important life lessons, like entrusting these days to Him.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…

Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV

 

The Lonely Crowd

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Well, isn’t that a title that makes you want to jump in and gobble up this post!?  But it’s a subject that’s been on my heart for a while now, and one that I believe God has given me some insights to share with you.

First, true confessions.  I’ve been struggling with loneliness A LOT lately.  Not really surprising since the words “lonely” and “widow” are often linked together.  Of course, I miss not living my life with Dale – and memories continue to make my heart ache for those bygone days.

A widow friend, whose husband died about 8 years ago, told me early on that loneliness was one of the hardest parts of being a widow.  And she said it gets worse over time because she has now been without him for more years.  Yep, I can certainly relate to that.  Getting harder, not easier.

Despite my best efforts to stay active with church and friends and the ministry, the reality is that I spend the large majority of my time alone.  Yes, my pets definitely help, but they’re no substitute for human interaction.

Because the circumstances leading to this loneliness aren’t going to change, i.e.  Dale’s NOT coming back, I realize that I am the one who needs to change – or at least figure out how to navigate through this.

This season of loneliness has opened up my eyes to a new reality.  MANY people live lonely lives!  I’m starting to see this condition in a whole new light.  Widows certainly don’t have the corner of the market on loneliness.  Anyone who is single or divorced or childless must certainly fight these same emotions.

And one doesn’t have to BE alone to be lonely.  Many people in unfulfilled relationships suffer as well.  Maybe you are an empty-nester and your loneliness is a result of a quiet house now that the kids are gone.

I just did a quick Google search on “the loneliness crisis” and I was shocked at how many articles address this subject.  One study suggests that nearly half of their respondents describe themselves as lonely.  Another study called loneliness an epidemic and a public health crisis more serious than obesity.

Of course, everyone has an opinion on what’s behind this crisis, from sleep deprivation to social media to prescription drugs.  There’s no shortage of opinions on the causes or the solutions.

But for the believer, that solution list might look a bit different.  As I’ve prayed over this and studied the scriptures, here are some of the insights God has graciously given to me.

  • My loneliness is not unique. Even Jesus knew loneliness, and certainly never more than as he was dying on the cross.  David wrote endless passages in the Psalms about his times of loneliness.  So, to a certain degree, it IS one of the sorrows we will suffer in this lifetime.  And there is comfort in knowing that our Savior experienced a loneliness greater than we can imagine.  He understands this pain.
  • Focus on eternity. I find GREAT comfort in thinking about spending eternity with Jesus and my loved ones in heaven. Meditating on God’s promises of no more tears, no more sadness, no more sorrow, no more LONELINESS, is a great balm for my soul!
  • Be grateful for times of fellowship. I want to appreciate more and more the time I spend with good friends.  We were not created to live in isolation.  God wants us living in fellowship with others, and I want to soak up that joy and preserve it for as long as I can!  Maybe even take a portion of it into my lonely days and nights.
  • Deepen my relationship with God. There’s no better time for this than when a heart is hurting and longing for relief.  God’s word is full of promises to bring joy and peace to your soul.  In fact, just this morning as I was contemplating this blog topic, God brought this scripture to my mind: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  Jeremiah 31:3. Boy, it doesn’t get any better than that!  Lord, help me to run to you for comfort in my loneliness.
  • Learn to rest in God alone. I know this is similar to the previous point, but I want to stress that sometimes we need to learn contentment in our loneliness.  Be careful what you use to fill up your lonely life, or substitute as a temporary fix.  God is all-sufficient.
  • Do something for others. This is good advice for anyone at any time!  Pouring ourselves into someone else’s life, especially someone who is hurting, shifts the focus from our pain to their comfort.  I know it’s so hard to get started on this one, but the rewards are many!

So, if you are one of the many who struggles with loneliness, you are not alone!  That knowledge, however, is generally not enough to make any of us feel any better.  Know that Jesus is our forever friend, one who sticks closer than a brother.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  Pour out your heart to him, and then let him pour his love back into you.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

James 4:8

The Wedding Ring

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I’m a big fan of the show, “Blue Bloods.”  Maybe it’s because I’ve also always been a fan of Tom Selleck from back in the Magnum P.I. days.  But I’ve come to appreciate every character on the show over the past few years.

So, you can usually find me curled up on the couch with 2 or 3 animals every Friday night at 9 PM watching the professional and personal interactions of the Reagan family dynasty.  (Yes, we widows lead exciting lives…)

Detective Danny Reagan, one of Frank’s (Tom Selleck) sons lost his wife tragically on the show a while back.  So, he is now a single dad trying to raise two teenage boys.  Sometimes he’s successful, sometimes not so much.  But through it all, he is clearly heart-broken over the loss of his sweet and sassy RN wife, Linda.

So, there are definitely episodes that take Danny through some of his grief that are hard for me to watch – and I relate to the pain and loss he is experiencing.

But I was NOT prepared for a portion of the show this past Friday night.  Linda has been gone for over a year and Danny is still wearing his wedding ring.  I completely relate to that.  I still wear my wedding ring, in part because I still feel like I’m married to Dale even though he’s been gone 18 months this week.

In this scene, Danny has gone to visit a woman who is some sort of psychic or counselor or combination thereof.  She comments on the fact that he still wears his ring.  He looks a bit sheepish as he acknowledges that with a little nod.  She then “reminds” him that Linda is gone now.  (REALLY?  Do you think he’s not aware???)  Then she tells him it’s time to stop wearing it.

She brings a little velvet jewelry pouch over and he slowly removes the ring and drops it in the pouch.  I burst into tears!  Where did that come from?  I was SO unprepared for that reaction – and for the visceral, immediate nature of it.

In a split second, I experienced what I assumed Danny was feeling – the physical, visual acknowledgment that his marriage and relationship were over.  It hit me like a ton of bricks, like the body slam that it was.  I couldn’t stop crying.  Just one more reminder that this grieving process can go on and on and on…a forever grief.

So, where do I stand on this whole wedding ring removal issue?  Clearly, I’m not ready to take the step Danny took!  I do know that Dale’s gone, that he’s not coming back.  I now mark “widowed” on any forms I have to fill out.  I do know that my marriage is over.  There’s no disillusionment there.  I’m reminded every moment of every day that he’s not here any more.

And yet, I can NOT bring myself to take that step.  I know that I probably will…some day.  But today isn’t that day.  I know some people remove it as soon as their loved one dies; and I know some who still wear their ring, on their left hand, 30-some years after their husband died.

As with everything in this grieving process, it’s our call.  Unlike the “psychic-counselor” of “Blue Bloods,” I don’t want anyone to tell me when it’s time.  It’s a very personal decision and even I have no idea when “it’s time.”  I trust that God will let me know.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

Ephesians 5:31