Your Turn

After my last blog post, I received responses from several friends letting me know that they were going to start applying the principles I shared about God working best through our trials to whatever trial they were going through.

And that got me thinking – it’s such an important lesson that I just might stretch it out into a second blog post!  But this time, I don’t want to talk about what I’m going through.  I want to shine the spotlight on all the myriad ways that people go through trials and suffering and hopefully reveal that MY lesson can definitely be YOUR lesson.

To recap, I shared how God was clearly refining me through MY fire of losing Dale six months ago.  But how many other struggles are people going through right now? How about just in the lives of those of you reading this blog?

Some have also lost a spouse and are grieving that deeply, even years later.  Others have lost parents, children, siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, even pets!   Who or what you grieve doesn’t conform to a pre-approved list!

What about the other ways that you are grieving?  What about that broken or difficult relationship with a family member?  Or a friend?  Or that issue with an addiction that either you or a loved one is struggling with?  Or the news that someone dear to you has cancer?  Or someone dear CONTINUES to fight cancer?  Or some other long-suffering condition?  Or what about your own physical or mental health challenges that don’t have answers – or healing?  What about a marriage that is struggling?  What about a job, or school year, that is challenging, or boring, or too stressful?   What about dreams unfulfilled?  I think you get the idea.  I could go on and on…

Recently I had lunch with a friend and we were discussing this exact topic.  I said to her, “This world is not short on troubles.”  And she wisely answered, “No, but it is short.”  In other words, this world in which we live, that often can seem to be endless, particularly during trials, is really just a whisper in time.  James 4:14 says, “What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  For Christ-followers, the really good news is that eternity with Jesus is what awaits after this mist is gone!

A few weeks ago, I was blessed to have tickets to the MercyMe concert at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.  Probably one of, if not the best concert I have ever been to.  They performed one of my favorite songs, “Even If,” and Bart Millard, the song-writer and lead singer shared the story behind this song.  He has a 16-year-old son who has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 2 years old.  And of course, Bart has been praying for healing for 14 years, and seeing his son suffer with this disease just breaks this father’s heart.

He referred us to the story from Daniel 3 about the three men (Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego) who would NOT bow down and worship the golden image as King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded everyone to do.  And if anyone refused, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace.  These godly men told the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (emphasis mine)

Well, if you remember any of your stories from Sunday School days, you know that the furnace did not kill them or hurt them.  In fact, there was not even the smell of fire on these men.  If you’re interested in the whole story, you can read it here in Daniel 3:8-30.

The men trusted that God would protect them, but the lesson that Bart Millard learned from this passage is that even if God wouldn’t protect them, they would never have bowed down to the golden image.  Hence was born the powerful song “Even If.”

So, let’s get back to the main message of this post – how God refines us through our own fires.  For those of us grieving the physical loss of a loved one, we know that God is not likely to bring them back from the dead, even though He is powerful enough to do so.

But what about all those other sorrows you’re grieving?  Couldn’t God restore your broken relationships?  Couldn’t He heal your cancer, or your loved one’s?   Just reread that earlier paragraph with the myriad of heartaches listed.  Yes, God surely could heal any one of them.  And yet, He does not.  And that brings us full circle to the “why not.”  Because God does His greatest, most permanent work in our lives when we are tested by the fires.  He won’t let your fire consume you, but He will let it refine you.

My prayer is that the words from “Even If” (especially the chorus) would become real to you and be your comfort through whatever trial you are currently facing.  The song ends with a snippet from a great old hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”  The words of this hymn become even more powerful when you know the story behind THAT song.

I will close with three additional links.  The first is to the MercyMe song, the second is to the old hymn, and the third is to the hymn story behind it.

I hope they speak to your soul as they have to mine countless times!





Reflections on the Six-Month Anniversary

How in the world have I been without Dale for six months already, as of today?  That was one of my first thoughts as I started writing this post.  I think it’s similar to what they say about raising children – the days are long, but the years are short.  In my case, the days (and evenings) are long, but the months are short.

I’ve been “chewing” on this topic for a while now, knowing that I wanted to share at some point what I’m learning personally through this journey.  And I anticipated that it would have a similar structure to an earlier post, “What Your Grieving Friend Wants You to Know.”  It would have nice defined bullet points and I might even come up with another Top Ten-type list.

And yet, despite all the many dog walks where God and I have worked on this topic, for the longest time it just seemed like everything was all muddled up and interwoven and random – kind of like a batch of spaghetti.  So, I was seriously concerned that nothing was going to fall into place.

About a week ago, the simplest of messages landed in my soul.  The defining truth on which I hang everything (and hang onto) is this:  God is all-sufficient!   It’s His sovereignty, His direction, His Holy Spirit guiding and teaching me truths that I never would have known had I not entered this dark place. He wants me to not only know, but to experience want it means for Him to be my All-Sufficiency.  God is my EVERYTHING through this journey.  I must accept that everything and everyone could fall away, but His Word and His presence never will.  And that must be enough.

So, with that backdrop and that filter on my reflections, here are some nitty-gritty lessons and revelations that have come to me over these last difficult months.  Hang in there with me!  The ride starts out a little bumpy…

Let me get the most painful revelations out of the way first.  Losing Dale is the single most difficult, heart-breaking experience of my life.  Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him terribly and shed tears over all that we’ll never have again on this earth.  The pain should not be surprising.  A marriage is a covenant relationship and when one of the partners is taken away, it’s like having half of your body ripped apart because we become one flesh.  It’s a double-edged sword; God had a perfect and precious design for marriage and I was blessed by that, but sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden and His beautiful creation and plan has been tainted ever since.  So, the sharp side of that sword is the pain that comes with the loss.  But it helps me understand why this is a loss like no other I’ve ever experienced.

And don’t think you can get through this without much shedding of tears.  It’s part of grieving and how God made us.  The Bible is chock full of examples of people going through hard times with many tears.  Jesus, Himself, wept at the death of Lazarus.  It’s natural, it’s necessary and it’s divinely ordained.  Check out the Psalms sometime for proof of this!

When people ask me if I have good days and bad days, I have to honestly respond that every day has pain and sadness in it.  AND every day has blessing in it.  It’s just a matter of degree.  Some days the grief and loneliness are overwhelming and come in waves of tears and heartache.  Other days can feel much more normal with people and activities that are blessings to me and make me smile or laugh.  It’s like a sliding scale from 1 to 100 and I glide back and forth between both ends of the grief scale.  So, every day is a mixture.  The key is to be grateful for, and watchful for, the good things.

Stay with me for one other painful revelation I’ve learned and then I promise there will be light at the end of this blog tunnel!  The other stark reality is that this is barely the beginning of a long, arduous journey.  Virtually every widow I’ve talked with or whose words I’ve read candidly shares that healing never completely comes, and it often takes many years to even come out of the fog. Honestly, it’s not very encouraging and I’d prefer to ignore their hard-earned wisdom! It’s much more a process of learning how to live with the hole in your life and focusing on what God wants to do with the new creature that you’ve become. I trust that not an ounce of my pain is wasted.  God has big plans for it and I can’t wait to be part of that.

So, let’s turn a corner and see how and where joy can still make a home in this life I’m now living.

First and foremost, I’m discovering amazing new truths about God’s character, His promises and His ways that resonate deep in my soul BECAUSE I’m grieving.  I’m afraid I won’t be able to do justice to this phenomenon with my mere words.  But it’s becoming so clear to me that God does some of his greatest, most permanent work in our lives when we’re going through trials.  At the core, it can be as simple as, “How could I see the Light if I wasn’t in the darkness?”

How much more clearly do I see God and His love for me once all of the peripheral “clutter” of life is stripped away?  How could I so look forward to an eternity with Christ and no more suffering if I hadn’t suffered here on earth?  How could I clearly hear God’s voice if I wasn’t forced to sit quietly and listen for it?  How would I know if my God-given faith could stand this test if I wasn’t asked to trust in it alone?  I could go on and on, but I hope you get the picture.  This season will be one of incredible growth if I trust the One Whose hand I am in.

God’s Word is FULL of people going through trials and struggles and pain and tears because it is through those times that God moved mightily in their lives.  He USES those experiences to deepen our love for Him and to allow Him to use us to reach out to others by sharing what we’ve learned.

I have found it to be extremely comforting to focus on reading scripture, devotionals and books that will speak to this season of my life, written by people I trust and whose theology is solid.  A great devotional I’m reading is entitled “Streams in the Desert” and a very insightful book I just finished is Timothy Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.”  How’s that for a little light reading before bed?!  Both are excellent in shining light on the many ways that God clearly wants to use our tough times for His good.

Does God understand our pain?  Count on it!  He sent his only Son, Jesus, to TRULY suffer and die on our behalf.  That pain was turned into incredible joy as we just celebrated over Easter when sin and death were conquered forever.  We have a God who is not only sovereign but understands and uses suffering.  And the Holy Spirit within every believer not just understands pain, but is actually experiencing it with me and comforting me through it.  You just can’t get more personal than that.

I don’t feel God’s comfort.  WHAT??  Don’t stop reading!  Let me explain.  My definition of comfort would be the lessening or removal of my pain and sadness.  That’s NOT how God chooses to comfort me.  However, He does not leave me with nothing.  I am finding the promises in His Word to be so much more precious during this difficult journey.  They reveal to me God’s character and give me that sought-after “peace that passeth all understanding.”  Just a few of my favorites:

  • …it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Deut. 31:6
  • Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
  • The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18
  • …and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:20
  • You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Psalm 56:8
  • Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
  • In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The other way that I see and feel God’s comfort is from the blessings He drops into my life, often completely unexpectedly. I’m so grateful for the friends and family who have walked through this difficult journey with me.  I promised in an earlier blog that I would share some of the ways I have been blessed thus far, so here you go:

  • Two friends who text me hugs EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
  • The neighbor up the street who, upon just learning of Dale’s death, showed up on my doorstep Valentine’s Day morning with a bouquet of flowers and said, “I thought Dale would want you to have these.”
  • The friend who regularly sends me a text with the simple words, “How R U doing?”
  • The friends who have stayed on the phone with me for hours as I’ve shared whatever pain I’m going through that day. Or who were willing to listen as I talked about my life with Dale.
  • The friends who have blessed me with vacation getaways to lift my spirits. (That’s right – I have those kinds of friends, too!)
  • Friends who have called me when they felt the Holy Spirit nudging them, just to check in.
  • Those who took the initiative to set up coffee, lunch or dinner dates.
  • Friends who didn’t give up the first time I turned them down because I just didn’t have the strength to go out that day.
  • The nurse who prayed for me just last week in the doctor’s office. And she wasn’t praying for my cholesterol levels!
  • Those who send me words of encouragement or understanding through the mail, email, text or Facebook. They truly brighten my day and remind me of all those who care about me.

There are many more examples of what I call “nuggets from heaven” that God drops in my every day.  I’m learning to recognize them for the blessings that they are and to be thankful that God loves me enough to comfort me in such a personal way by using many of you.

This really just scratches the surface of all I’ve taken in over the past 6 months since Dale’s death.  But I trust that it hits the big issues and gives you a glimpse into this world and takes away a little bit of the mystique of widowhood!

While on the surface the difficulties and the blessings may seem to be opposite ends of the spectrum, I believe they really are all tied together.  God uses the depth and the length of my pain to refine me, through this fire, into the person He wants me to become – a woman who has a deeper, more tested, resilient faith.  And one who can have a greater impact on those around her and ultimately on God’s kingdom.  How could I possibly want anything less than that?