It's been awhile since I've written a blog post. I've been doing some reflecting over the year lately, especially with the holidays coming up. This Christmas will be my fifth Christmas alone. I use the word alone on purpose. I could identify myself as a single parent, or widow, because I am very well a widowed single parent. I like the word alone better......not lonely, just alone. There is a big difference.
While I am a widowed single parent, I feel myself separating from identifying myself as a widow or single parent first. I remember the first two years after my husband died. There was a great deal of grief and sadness in those two years. Identifying myself as widowed and a single parent first caused me to focus my identity on my pain and what I felt was missing in my life. When I think about who I am, I don't want the first thing I think about to be pain or what's missing. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And I am not just a follower, I am a lover of Jesus Christ. My desire is to live my life so saturated in His love that others are drawn to Jesus by how I live my life.
If I want people to see Jesus in me, my focus on my life can't be on what hurts or what's missing. I am not saying that I should ignore my pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is as much a gift from God as a spouse, a child, that promotion at work, or whatever blessing you desire. We are all going to have pain and suffering in our lives, and we are all going to grieve losses. God uses pain, suffering, and grief to grow our relationship with Him and to show us who He truly is as Comforter and Healer. What I am saying is this: I don't want my identity to be pain and grief, because pain and grief is just a season. I want my identity to be something constant.....something that doesn't fluctuate with seasons of my life. I want my identity to be so wrapped up in Jesus, that when I think of myself, I think of Jesus first.....not on the life events that left me broken, or what is not in existence in my life, but rather on the faithfulness of my Savior, the healing balm of His Spirit, the security and protection of Him being Lord over my life, and all of the different ways I've discovered who He is to me.
I am alone, but alone with Christ. As I type this, I have just gotten over being sick and Ryan was up all night the night before. While there is not another person here to take the night shift, there is always a Provider who is able to meet my every need and a Comforter who carries me when I'm exhausted. There is always a Companion I can talk to at the end of the day. There is always a Supporter when I'm not confident in my decision making, or if I've made a mistake and I'm having a hard time forgiving myself.
It's been five Christmases this year, and each one my focus has been on my grief and my struggles. I know I'll still miss Mark, I'll still talk about him, and I'll still have struggles as a single parent, but I just feel like it's time to separate and change my focus. It's time for something new. It's time to go after my calling and the assignments God has presented to me. It's time to make my life into something new, and not on outside appearances, but how I view my situation and what I spend my time on in light of eternity. It's time for some big picture living.
"Where's my daddy?"
The question rang in the air like the shrilling of a school bell in a classroom of kids waiting to be released from their confined space. I had prepared myself for this question from my son before my husband died, but I didn't expect it at four years old. I had prepared in my mind an in depth discussion of eternity and death, but I hadn't prepared for a four year old mind to blurt it out right before bedtime. What do you say?
I said, "Well, daddy is in heaven with Jesus, and he's having fun and just a good ole time with Jesus." Ryan replied, "Oh, okay!" I then showed him a picture of his dad, which he was happy to see, then he went on babbling about something else.
After Ryan went to sleep, I replayed the conversation over and over in my head. What came out of my mouth was NOTHING like I had planned, wasn't even my own thoughts, yet it was exactly what Ryan's four year old mind and heart needed to hear. I had peace about the conversation, but didn't understand it. Then God revealed something to me, one of the reasons why Ryan doesn't have a dad at this time in his life. God wants to plant a strong pull to eternity in his heart right now, not later. His desire for Ryan is to live for eternity at the earliest age possible, and my prayer is that Ryan takes hold of that early in life and not take eternity for granted.
Psalm 116:15 - Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.
This is probably one scripture I won't understand in its fullness until my own homegoing to heaven, but I believe there are numerous reasons why the death of the saints are precious to the Lord. Besides these people being forever with the Lord after death, I believe Jesus uses the experience of loss and grief over a saint's death to draw others to focus their attention to eternity and less on their time here on earth. We were not made for death; rather, we were made for eternity.
God gives us exactly what we need, even if what we need is challenging and downright painful. I was still struggling in my mind with the conversation I had with Ryan, when I listened to a podcast by John and Lisa Bevere. In this podcast, Lisa describes losing her father, and she shared something God told her that helped prepare her for her father's death. This is what God told her: "The pull of eternity exceeds the bondage of earth."
The draw to eternity will one day, for every single person, break the bondage of earth. When the bondage of the world is broken, we will no longer be bound by sickness, by time, by oppression, by guilt, by sin, by whatever you struggle with or by whatever confines you. Far too often have I taken eternity for granted, and more often than not have I lived for the world and not for my Lord. We will be drawn to our eternal home forever one day, and I want my permanent desire to be consumed with eternity and awakening others to the pull of eternity.
Yesterday evening I read an article about two parent homes that really struck a nerve with me. Normally these articles don't bother me, because I know who I am in Christ and Jesus is more than enough for me, my son, and my situation. What really bothered me about the article was that it was shared by a prominent Christian organization that offered up negative statistics about single parent homes, specifically single mother homes, and offered no hope for those not in a traditional family setting. I hate this. I hate this because so many parents who are not in the traditional family setting, use these organizations for inspiration as they navigate the struggles of being a single parent, and articles like this leave parents with a sense of hopelessness......and that is the opposite of Christ.
We think that kids have the best chance at succeeding in life in two parent homes, because that's what research and statistics tells us. But research and statistics are void of the miracle working power of Christ and do not take into account God's perfect plan for our lives. God placed each child with each parent for a reason, and God has given each parent everything they need to raise their children up in the ways of Christ. As parents, we need to rest in the work that Jesus has already done, and lead our children by example how to walk out faith in Christ. With resting and relying on Christ, statistics won't matter.
I recently had an experience where someone I trusted told me the following statement: It will always be this way and will never completely go away. I had went to this person with a problem I had, looking for a solution. When I was told this, something rose up within me in my spirit and said, "No it won't." I didn't blurt the comment out loud, but kept it to myself. I had went to the Lord in prayer beforehand, and I thought this person would help me with my problem. Later, the Lord revealed to me how to solve the problem.
Sometimes the work that God wants to do in our lives is very painful, and at the time, seems like an attack from the devil himself. However, God brings painful situations in our lives to bring a unique depth to our relationship with Him that will come no other way. What can happen in those moments of pain is a fear that something painful will continually happen in the future. Rather than expecting good or bad to happen, we must know what God says about a situation or problem. There are times when you will be sick, but you will not always be sick. There are times when you will grieve, but you will not always grieve. There are times when you will have questions, but there will be times you have answers. There are times when some situations and problems will always be there, but there are times when there is another solution.
There are times when we are disappointed, things are left undone, dreams fall apart, and the worst case scenario happens. But there are also times we are told it will always be this way, this will never change, there is nothing else we can do, or you will just maintain this state, and for the situation that statement made is FALSE. It is imperative that as Christians, we are led by His Spirit, that we have that continual personal relationship with Him every single day. We MUST be led by Him and allow Him to have complete control over everything we are, especially our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We MUST be ready to hear Him speak at all times, especially when someone we trust tries to speak into our situation or struggle with a lie. While the person may mean well or have good intentions or just believe differently, their voice is not the one that matters. The one that matters is the voice of God.
Life is full of changes. Sometimes we initiate the change, and sometimes God initiates the change. I have learned life is much better when God does the changing than me! I have made changes on my own without talking to God in the past, and it was a big mistake. I am not saying that God's initiated changes in life come without difficulty, but I am saying when we allow God complete control over our lives and submit to His will, the changes that come are a part of His plan. The changes will bring circumstances that will develop us to be who God has called us to be and will put us in places to reach who He had mapped out for us to reach.
Some people may think that what I am about to say is not that big of a deal, but I am taking the opportunity to express some things that are on my heart. I am going to be leaving Guntersville First United Methodist Church and partnering with another church in Guntersville, Real Church. Some people may think, "People go to different churches all the time, so why does this matter?" It matters to me for many reasons: I take any commitment I make very seriously, I believe being consistently connected with a local body of believers is vital to spiritual health, and I believe that many people in American churches do a lot of "church hopping" because they get offended or aren't entertained enough for their liking.
Guntersville First United Methodist Church is an amazing church and I am very thankful for their kindness and love towards me and my son after the death of my husband. I am not leaving because I am mad, upset, offended, or bored. The only reason why I am leaving, which should be the only reason someone leaves a church, is because God said go. God didn't tell me to go for any other reason than it is His will and His plan for me to be a part of Real Church. Earlier in my Christian walk, and especially in my college years, I went to lots of different chuches. While it is good to learn about other denominations, it is not good to hop from church to church. To flourish in our personal relationship with Christ, we must be consistently connected with a local church, not try out a new church every six months.
It was difficult for me to say yes to that change because I love the people I go to church with. The difficulty with obedience is that sometimes God will lead you to make changes that aren't always easy. If you are seeking Him for direction and guidance, He will ask you to do things that hurt. It was not a comfortable thing for me to tell some of my friends that I would not be going to church with them anymore. However, after prayer and seeking God for direction, I had a very real God encounter which told me what step to take. That is why it is so important to seek God earnestly. Without letting Him be in the driver's seat of our lives, we may miss out on specific opportunities and directions He has planned for us to take.
Thurrsday I went to Marco's Pizza in Scottsboro for lunch. I felt like I needed to eat there, which I thought was because I liked pizza However, I realized later it was so much more than my craving for pizza.
I ordered my food (pizza, yum!!) and sat down for lunch. There weren't many people there......one gentleman and a couple across the dining area from me, and two older ladies sitting on my side talking. I remember one of the ladies talking about her experience of getting a pedicure. Someone else had treated her to the pedicure recently, and she said that all she thought the whole time was that "there are children going hungry in this world and here I am getting a pedicure!" I was amused by her comments, and could tell without seeing her that she was a person who did not spend money frivolously. I let my mind wander about the tasks still at hand for the day while the ladies made their way out of the restaurant.
About 2 minutes later, a car alarm starts going off and doesn't stop. I got irritated and thought, "This has got to be one of these women.....why don't they just press the button on the key fob already!" After a few minutes, one of the young men (they had to still be teenagers) behind the counter went outside, then came back inside to tell another worker that something was wrong with the lady's car and to cover the register so that he could help. Another customer (an older gentlemam) went outside as well at this time to offer assistance. About 10 minutes later the ladies came back in and the owner of the car had called her husband to come pick her up. Her friend with her was a lady who worked in retail, which was evident by her outfit and name badge, and had fiery red hair. Her face was tired and worn, but her hair and her eyes shined with a vibrant life and spirit. I wanted to sit down with this lady over coffee and spend the afternoon hearing her stories and gleaning the knowledge and truth she had gained thus far in her life. She said, "Well, we just wanted to play a different kind of music for you while you enjoyed your meal!" Even in this minor disturbance to her schedule she was concerned how it was affecting the people around her. The ladies sat down and started talking again, and as I eavesdropped on the conversation (yes, I'm nosy!), I learned that the lady who owned the car had called her husband and was waiting on him to pick them up. It would be awhile and the other lady needed to get back to work. I was done with lunch, so I jumped up and offered to give the lady a ride back to work. She took me up on my offer, after making sure her friend was okay to wait alone for her husband to show up, and we headed out the door.
She thanked me about 10 times in the span of the 3 minutes it took to get her back to work. During our journey I learned that she would have lost points for being late (which I imagine affects pay and how many hours the supervisors schedule you for), and I explained to her that I had worked retail before, and we shared brief stories about what we had experienced. As I pulled up to the front door, she told me if I ever needed a favor to come find her at work and she would help. She said, "I owe you big time because now I'm not late!"
After I dropped her off and headed back to work, I thought about writing a blog post about retail workers and being nice and not insanely rude to them while shopping this holiday season. (So needed but maybe another time. Some of you need a reminder to chill out.) And then it hit me.....for the past week I have been praying for God to put someone in my path for me to witness to about the love of Jesus Christ, and I totally missed it! Yes, I did a random act of kindness, and acted selflessly. Yes, the lady was very appreciative for my thoughtfulness. But I didn't use that brief period of time to tell her about Jesus and the awesomeness of God. How could I have forgotten, have not seen, that God was orchestrating this to reach this lady?
As I sat there with my thoughts, I asked God to show me what I needed to see, what He wanted to teach me through this situation. My willingness to help and serve was natural, like breathing to me. I didn't even give it a second thought. I saw that there was a need and jumped up to help. I love helping and serving other people. It flows freely. What doesn't flow freely is talking with others about Jesus Christ. I do it, and have done it, but it is not like breathing, it is not natural, and it doesn't flow freely. It's not constantly on my mind, and when I do witness to others, I restrain myself and don't let the Holy Spirit move freely. This makes me sad. The one I say I love, have given my allegiance to, who has died for me, who loves me more than humanly possible, does not flow freely through me during those moments. I do witness to others, but when I do, I restrain myself from what needs to be said and don't let the Holy Spirit have His way and say what He wants to say. Some may say that the lady felt the love of Christ through my act of kindness to her, and I am sure she did, but did she know what she felt? If we as Christians don't tell them, then how will they know about Jesus? I think a large portion of American Christians depend on their acts of kindness and service to point people to Christ, and don't put enough importance on telling and explaining to people why they serve, that Jesus is the reason for the love we show others. There are more orchestrated divine moments set up in our everyday lives to talk to people about Jesus if we will let the Holy Spirit have his way and move freely within us. Acts of service are important, but so are relationships and talking with people about Jesus Christ.
Recently I came across a meme on Facebook with this scripture referenced and this statement: Hosea 6:3 - He will come to us like rain. I read the scripture within the context of the chapter. God's people were expecting God to forgive them for their repetitive sin, for their continual turning away from the Lord. God forgives when we ask and turn from our sins, but we must not choose Him as the last resort, when all else fails, when things get so bad that we have no other choice but Him to clean up our mess. When the people came to God, they wanted their circumstances to change, but their love for Him was not true or sincere.....it was as flippant as a child that behaves to get a piece of candy. The child is being good for the reward or benefit of being good, which is to get the candy. But take away the candy, the bribe, and what do you get? That is where you will see the heart of a person. If God's love is all you have, would you still choose Him if nothing else in your life ever changed? God wants us to turn to Him first, to choose Him first, because He loves us so much that He chose US first!
My desire is that I seek His love and to really know Him more and more than seeking His blessings and the benefit of knowing Him. And to be honest, there are times where I have saught Him for what He can give me than for just knowing and loving Him. I want that to change in every area of my mind and heart, because if I have the benefits of knowing Him more than I have Him, I have completely missed the mark! As I've meditated on this scripture the past couple of weeks and focused on just knowing Him and loving Him, I wrote the following poem. It is about being consumed by His love and knowing Him better as the Lover of my soul.
Hosea 6:3 - He will come to us like rain.
My lover comes to me like the spring rain; quietly and softly, then steadily pours out his love on me to make me grow.
My lover comes to me like the summer rain, surprising me in the heat of the battle, and overtaking me with his love.
My lover comes to me like the fall rain, flying with the majesty of the wind, and clearing out the confusion of my mind.
My lover comes to me like the winter rain, covering me in the depths of loneliness, and lighting up my darkness like the winter snow to the desolate night.
Today was a busy, crazy day. Mondays ususlly are. I had a meeting at one branch in the morning, then drove to the next branch to finish up my day and attend another meeting. Throughout the day I'm making contact with volunteers for patient visits this week, and attempting to make other contacts for presentations, and trying to catch up on documentation and paperwork. Meanwhile, I've got to prepare for 2 presentations and 2 other meetings this week. Needless to say, a lot is going on. After work I run to get Ryan before daycare closes, drop off some stuff for a friend who is getting settled into her new place, the drive to the Albertville branch to drop off goody bags and supplies for the morning's presentation. By this time it's almost 7, I'm exhausted, and while Ryan is being good, I know the kid has got to be hungry. So we do what any family on the go does....we stop at a cheap fast food place to get a quick hot meal.
After getting our order and sitting down to eat, we hear a loud crash outside. Everyone in the dining area turns to look, and there are 3 cars stopped in the intersection. Two other motorists get out of their cars to approach the wreck, and stand next to the cars until all the first responders arrive. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, but this intersection was our way out. So we were stuck until the wreck was cleared. As I watched the traffic come to a stand still and back up on the highway, I knew we were going to be camping out awhile.
This was not in my plan.....I needed to get home to pick up the mess of toys, do the dishes that have been piled up in the sink since last week, and run a load of laundry from the pile that's already gotten too big. But that wasn't going to happen today. I could have gotten mad about it, or I could have enjoyed the forced rest stop and spend some time with my boy. I looked at Ryan, who was eating his fries, and I thought, this is a kid who needs to be surprised with some ice cream.
After I noticed he was done eating his supper, I just said real casual-like, "You want some ice cream?" His face lit up like Christmas morning and he shouted, "Yaaaaaay!" So I got 2 scoops and we shared a bowl of ice cream. And I witnessed a first for my son.....he actually used a spoon instead of his fingers!! That is a big deal, because he has always refused utensils because he gets frustrated with them.
The whole experience left me thinking......how often do we just push and push and run and run, when God is calling us to rest? How often do we push Him aside, to get our to-do list done, instead of taking our to-do list to Him and letting Him plan out our time for us. He calls us to different seasons that are fast-paced and others that are slow-paced, but in either season He still wants us to recognize the times and blessings of rest we need. We would be more effective for the kingdom of God if we took those opportunities to rest and soak Him in, instead of putting us in situations where we are forced to rest, where we have no other choice but to rest and be still.That may also be a sign of spiritual maturity and growth.....hearing and responding to the voice of God calling you to rest.
During the first year without my husband I had many offers for help or assistance for various tasks or chores. I learned early on that many of the offers were empty promises. Not all....but most. I got to the point where I HATED asking for help because if they weren't sincere, I could tell the moment the request for help left my mouth. So I stopped asking, "toughened up" (or hardened my heart), and started handling everything myself. Let me tell you, that is a heavy load to carry, and a burden of living that no one is meant to carry by themselves.
When someone becomes a widow like I have, every area of your life changes including your social circles, and they change especially when you don't want them to change. Family aside, almost 95 percent of the people I interact with on a regular basis I did not know prior to my husband's death. That means many people have left my life, but many new people have entered my life. And I have to remind myself sometimes that the new people are not like the ones that are gone.
Over the past couple of weeks several people have offered to help me move, help with Ryan, or offer something else to help me out. I had several true, sincere offers for help from people I had known awhile and others I barely knew. I know I make it difficult when I keep saying no, but I have appreciated the people who didn't stop asking. I had one person tell me "it's a joy to serve you" and another say "it's an honor to help." When you've had to protect yourself like I have, you are very guarded and keep people at arm's length. You don't let people get close and you don't take them up on offers to help because of so many empty offers and empty promises. And while I share my struggles and my grief journey, I still don't connect emotionally and don't let my heart trust fully.
But I think that is changing, and it's changing because of the people who refuse to stop asking, and who stay. We can make loving others seem so complicated, when 9 times out of 10 all you have to do is be a person of your word and show up.
Lately I've been wrestling with being occupied with so many good things, that I wonder if I am missing out on the tasks that God has called me to do. I enjoy writing and sharing my story. As I pray and meditate on His word, and give God space to speak to my heart, I am flooded with so many ideas on how to use written words, spoken words, and visual demonstrations to show people the love of Christ and the works of the Lord. The more time I spend with Him, the more passionate I become about this.
I've had so much change in my life the past 3 years. As soon as I get settled or comfortable with something, it changes. I want to be stretched beyond my comfort zones and grow in the Lord, but good grief you'd think a girl could catch a break!! During the past several months God has been teaching me what it means to tune in to His voice. So often when I've prayed during the early seasons of grief, I asked God for the big billboard signs or large sign with flashing lights and arrows to show me I was making the right decisions. And He provided that....I was in shock and in a fog for a long time after my husband died, and didn't trust my decision making skills. But now that I'm out of the shock and fog and intense, paralyzing grip of grief, He hasn't been giving me the big signs. He's been teaching me to listen to that still small voice.....the way He whispers to your heart and is wooing you to get still and quiet before Him so that He can talk to you. It's like the way your best friend talks to you when she shares her deepest secret with you. It's not for everyone to hear....just for those who have a deep, close, personal relationship with that person.
I wish for more time to dig deeper into all of this, and my prayer is that God grants my request in some way. However, I don't want it for me and my own desires. I make this request to Him because this is something I can't shake off......it's something that keeps bubbling up inside of me, and whatever it is that He's leading me to do, I want to be all in.
Right now I don't have the luxury of down time or free time (oh what a luxury that is!!). So until the Lord provides (and if He chooses to provide), I have been laying out everything in my life and asking God what good thing He wants me to let go of that He has not called me to do. I am often so eager to help that I jump on board with something without praying about it and asking God if that is something He wants me to do. I need to make more time for seeking His will instead of jumping at every single opportunity I am presented with. I know I may have some hard decisions to make when saying yes to His will, but I make the decision now to say yes to Him, to follow Him where ever He wants to take me.