FAITH THAT STANDS FIRM

It’s been almost 14 years since that awful November day when my life was turned upside down.  The memories of that day will always stay with me.  In an instant I was no longer married, but a widow.  Our happy family of four was now a single-parent family of three.  Dreams that were so exciting became dull memories.  I struggled to get from one day to the next.  My story now had a definite divider: before he died and after he died.  Everything in our lives is gauged by that one event. 

Losing my 47 year old husband was devastating.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Why would God allow such a thing to happen?  I cried and begged God to let me wake up from that horrible nightmare.  But, it wasn’t a nightmare.  It was my new normal; a normal that I hated with every fiber of my being. 

I spent hours agonizing.  Prayer was not a comfort.  The only request I had was for the pain to stop.  I questioned everything I thought I believed. 

  • Does God really exist?
  • And if He does exist, is God really good? 
  • Does He really love me and care about me? 
  • Is there really life after death?
  • What do I believe about Heaven?
  • Is eternity really a gift for the believer?

Through the days, weeks, months and (yes) years, I got my answers.

  • Yes.  God does exist.  And, He withstands my doubts and questions.
    • “Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God.” John 1:1-2 TLB
  • Yes.  God is good.  Fortunately, He’s not fair or vindictive.   He treats me with Grace and Love beyond my imagination.  I’m often too selfish to understand His caring and love.
    •  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  John 3;16 MSG
  • Yes.  God really cares about me in particular.  He carried me through the darkest days.  I saw His care and love through friends and family that stood by me.
    • I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
  • I do believe there is Life after Death.  It is my hope and the only reason I could get through each day. 
    • And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.  Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.  So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TLB
  • I’m still learning about Heaven.  It’s a place prepared for me, not a floaty place in the clouds.  Heaven is in the presence of God. 
    • “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”  John 14-1-4 MSG
  • The promise of Eternal Life is a gift given to those that have finished their “assignment” here on earth.  Death is not a punishment, but a reward for those of us who believe. 
    • “The world and its evil desires are passing away. But whoever does what God wants them to do lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 NIV

I finally stopped focusing on what my late husband was missing and accepted that he was EXACTLY where he wanted to be: in the presence of God.  He wasn’t missing anything.  It was ME that was missing sharing life with him.  His death wasn’t a punishment.  It was his reward for a life well lived. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

I still grieve for my loss.  I grieve that my children no longer have their dad.  But, I don’t question God’s plan.  I know He is in control.  I believe in His sovereignty and His plan for me.  My faith keeps me on track!

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
    I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
    I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
    I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!

Where Is the Joy?

I admit it, I struggle during the holiday season.  There was at time when I loved getting ready for Thanksgiving.   Planning the perfect meal.  Visiting with family and friends. We even went to the big parade in downtown Houston.   I think I was more excited than my kids about Christmas.   I loved the excitement and the fun of the holidays.  It was a wonderful time.  There are many wonderful memories.

But grief changed all of that.  The idea of planning and cooking became a chore.  So, we started eating out.  It took a few years before I could face putting up a Christmas Tree and even then it was totally different from what had been our “norm”.  Instead of red & green, it was pink, purple and lime green.  We used feather boas instead of tinsel.  It was as far away as I could get from the memories of Christmas’ Past.  I couldn’t seem to entirely enjoy the holidays because I was haunted by what “might have been”.

Three years ago, our holidays changed once again.  We now have a blended family.  We now must consider all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and their schedules.  They have other interests and families to consider.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of fighting for time.  And the holiday events become competitions instead of joyful celebrations.  Quality family time is lost in the quest to get to every house and every meal.

Honestly, my response can be much like the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:  feeling sorry for myself and expecting to miss the fun and excitement again this year.  It’s too easy to  feel that no one cares.  It’s very convenient to focus on “ME” instead of looking at the larger picture.

I’m really trying this year.  I want to be excited about the holidays.  I don’t want family quarrels to overshadow what should be a joyful time.  I don’t need to feel like I’m placing 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) in a competition that doesn’t even exist.  I’m trying to accept that perfection should not be my goal this year.  And, I’m focusing on building special memories wherever  and whenever I am able.  It may be a quiet meal with just my husband on Thanksgiving Day or a bigger, busier meal with most of the crew over the weekend.  Both, are times to create memories.

I know there will still be tender places.  Putting up the holiday village that belonged to my late husband or unwrapping his Santa collection will be bitter-sweet.  I’ve already got a new Santa Ornament to add.   Pulling out the old ornaments from the early days of our children will unlock some emotions, both good and bad.   I’m on the lookout for a 2018 snow globe to add to the collection I began in 2015 on our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs.  Douglas. And, I’m prepared to accept the critique of “too much purple” on the tress.

This year, the big tree will go up early (at least for me!)  I’m working on handmade angel ornaments for a smaller tree.  I’ve already planned a Holiday dinner for my co-workers and I look forward to sharing our home and hospitality.  Christmas gifts won’t be flashy, but I hope that they meet a need for the recipients.  We will be baking goodies and sharing with the neighbors (and trying not to over indulge in the sweets.)  There will be carols and hot chocolate and I  will try to be present in the moments as they occur.

This year, I will strive to give thanks for the numerous blessing in my life: my family, my job, my home, my church and so many more that I tend to take for granted.  I will try to remember that the excitement of Christmas is not about the gifts we give, but about the love that was gifted to us through the birth of Christ.  I will remember that time spent with our friends and family is precious and not waste it wishing for something different.   This year, I will accept the emotions as they arrive, deal with them and move forward.

This year, I will find the Joy in MY holiday season.

 

The Lord God Made Them All. . .

I was September 6 when a bony, sad faced dog walked into our life. He just collapsed in our front yard. He didn’t seem dangerous, but I wasn’t sure what to do with him. I already had 3 dogs to care for on a daily basis. I lived alone and Gracie was just home for the weekend. There was nothing to be done on a Sunday afternoon, so we gave him food and water, put him in the spare crate that we had and put off making any decisions. He seemed grateful for food and water and a safe place to stay. We decided to call him, Baxter.
baxter2009
Baxter was tired and sad. He wasn’t chipped. But, he had been neutered and was well behaved. He was crate trained and so very smart. After just one day, he was responding when I called him Baxter. He was so skinny, it was hard to tell what breed he might be. Sydney drove him crazy. She was Tigger to his Eeyore when I walked them each day. I posted his picture on Facebook, hoping to find a home for this sweet boy. Soon, my friend contacted me. She wanted to meet Baxter and give him a test run at their home. So, on September 12, 2009, I took Baxter and all of his accoutrements to the Gasdia’s. I kissed the top of his head and watched as he following Sonya to the backyard that would become his fur-ever home.
The next time I saw Baxter, I hardly recognized him. He had blossomed into a beautiful golden lab mix. He seemed to remember me and walked across the carpet (which was a no-no) to greet me. Through the years I was privileged to watch him enjoy a wonderful life. He got to ride in the truck and go play in the country. He was able to go on walks and runs. He was home! When Tim and I moved to Brookshire, he would come and stay with us whenever his family went out of town. At first, he was a little nervous, but he soon came to enjoy his “country” get away. He would explore the backyard and each of our little guys would greet him, some more enthusiastically as others. In the evenings, when he had taken all of the together time he could, Baxter would pick up his baby (a stuffed alligator ) and head to the master bedroom and put himself to bed. In the morning, he would greet Tim with a cold nose and two ears ready to be thoroughly scratched! We loved Baxter.baxter & puppy
We’re not sure how old Baxter was when he arrived in our lives. Two years old or less was the best guess. For a little over nine years, this gracious dog blessed the lives of all who came in contact with him. He never hesitated to rub against your leg to get an ear scratched. He was friendly, but protective. He loved his friend, Sonya. His excitement when she would walk into the room from a vacation was palpable.
We will never know what happened to Baxter before he came into our lives. But, I know the last 9 years were amazing. You could look into his eyes and see that. As Cecil Frances Alexander said in his poem:
“ All things bright and beautiful,
  All creatures great and small,
  All things wise and wonderful,
  The Lord God made them all.”
Farewell Baxter. You were a true friend and companion. You will be missed.

Twice Blessed

Today is a day of remembrance for me. Thirty-one years ago, I married my first husband, Terry Benson. The memories of that day are happy if a little bittersweet. In sixteen days, we will note the 13th anniversary of Terry’s death.

Terry and I loved each other very much. We laughed, cried, fought and loved a lot over the 18 years we had together. We watched our kids grow into teens and enjoyed their activities both together and separately. I loved him so much that I struggled with how to let him go

If you have never experienced widowhood, it’s hard to explain the emotions that go with it. There’s the obvious loss of the person. But, there is also a loss of identity. I had been part of a couple for so long and it was hard to be “just me” again. I was not longer Terry’s wife. So, I took refuge in being Zac and Gracie’s mom. I missed all of the things that I had come to take for granted. No longer would Terry drive me to work and drop me off at the front door. He was no longer there to pack my lunch. When I got really irritated at work, I couldn’t call and hear him tell me it would be okay. When the kids activities conflicted, I had to choose which one would have to go it alone or figure out how to be two places at once. When the car broke down or had a flat, I now had to deal with it. I had to figure out what bills had to be paid and when. And, I had to figure out how to sleep at night without the sound of his breathing.

I managed the life of a widow for almost 10 years. I thought I was pretty well adjusted and capable as a single adult. I had even learned to enjoy life again. And then love came knocking. Love in my fifties was a bit different that in my twenties. We both had a history and the baggage that goes with that. We had different experiences from our previous marriages and quite honestly, different expectations because of that. And, we had five children who all had an opinion.

As I admitted my love for Tim, my new husband, I had to question how I could love both men so deeply. I struggled with feeling like I was cheating on Terry. Even though he had been dead for almost a decade, my heart still ached to hear his voice. I had promised to love him until “death do us part” and I had yet to release my heart from that promise. As well as I thought I had handled my grief, there were lots of things that I had never addressed. I had buried my depression with activity. I was so accustomed to “putting on a brave face” that I almost forgot what it was to be honest about my feelings. So, ten years later, I was in counseling trying to sift through all of these emotions.

I am still amazed at how deeply I love now. Tim is very gracious and we share many sweet memories of Terry together. I am so grateful that he is not threatened by my memories. God allowed me the double blessing of loving completely not once, but twice. I will never forget the life that Terry and I shared. I will tell our grandson, Joshua Terry about his Papa Terry when he’s older. And I will continue to be grateful for both of my husbands. God has truly blessed me in so many ways

 

20140214-070338.jpgwedding2015
“But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

And Now I See. . .

In 2005, my husband died. It was unexpected and it was devastating to me. Many well-meaning people shared scripture that were meant to be comforting. But, at the time, I didn’t find much comfort or even any semblance of truth in many of the verses shared.

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” Joel 2:25a 

“then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3 

“God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.” Job 42:12-13 

I didn’t understand how some unknown thing in the future would ever replace what I had lost when my husband died. How could the years we lost together be restored? My husband was dead. Nothing could ever replace him in my heart. Nothing new would replace what I had lost. I couldn’t accept that any of these promises was meant for me, personally.  I was in pain. I grieved the loss of my life as I knew it and as I had dreamed that it would be.

But now, I see. I have a new marriage and with it a new extended family. My new husband is not a replacement for the one I lost. I will always grieve that death in some way. One doesn’t love completely and then forget that relationship. But, this new marriage has taught me that I can love again, that my life did not end. I have been given a chance to experience a deeply passionate love, once again.

This marriage is different from the one I began in my twenties. This marriage is founded on a long-standing friendship and maturity that I lacked 30 years ago. I can love more completely because I understand the fragility of life and relationships. I have learned to give all now, because I do not know what tomorrow holds in this life. I try not to miss a chance to say “I Love you” for I have determined to never again regret words not spoken. I cherish the quiet breaks, the silly moments, the busy times and even the heated, uncomfortable times; for they represent all the things that form a lasting and loving relationship. I vow to speak positively about my husband and to honor him in my words and actions. I am aware how important it is for my all of my children (both through birth and marriage) to have a model of stability to use as a pattern in their own lives.

This marriage of almost 3 years will never replace the 18 years of my first marriage. This marriage is new.  This marriage is a blessing of restoration and joy. I can truly say the God has blessed my later life even more than my earlier life. He has restored my joy.

wedding2015

“You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger,
each ache written in your book.

God, you did everything you promised,
and I’m thanking you with all my heart.
You pulled me from the brink of death,
my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.
Now I stroll at leisure with God
in the sunlit fields of life.”

Psalm 56:8, 12-13 MSG

 

 

 

 

 

An Unwelcome, Unwanted Gift

Charlie Brown was known for saying “Good grief!” when he was frustrated. There a very few of us that would consider grief “Good”. But, I’ve learned that grief is a gift.

My first months after my husband’s death were dark. I remember functioning on some level. The pain of grief was numbing. The colors weren’t there. The sun seemed to have disappeared. I felt as if I was trying to swim through mud: exhausted but getting no where. I spent hours in the darkness of night walking in circles and asking God “WHY?”

Many people would tell me I should be happy that my husband was with God. When the tears would start, they would try to make things better, to encourage me to be strong. I had read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 many times:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV

Unfortunately, I took this verse to mean that I should not grieve. I felt guilty for grieving. I tried to hide my pain. I struggled with my faith. Was I just not strong enough?

I was blessed to have friends that understood grief. They walked beside me. They allowed my grief to bubble over into their lives. They didn’t try to “fix”me. They just stood with me. They allowed me to learn what a gift grief can be.

Most of us try to avoid pain, to avoid grief. We don’t talk about death. Too often children aren’t exposed to the sorrow of death and funerals. We “protect” them from seeing our own grief. And they are not prepared for tragedy when it occurs.

But death is a reality. Sometimes it comes too early and the questions keep coming. I found myself pointing out people that I didn’t think deserved to be living and asking God why he took my husband and left them. I screamed and begged to have him back or to be taken to be with him.

But one day, I realized that Terry’s death was his reward. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He wasn’t missing a thing. I was grieving for what I had lost. And that was ok. I didn’t have to feel guilty or hide it. I missed my husband. My kids missed their dad and the tears were a symbol of our love for him. I had a new understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14:

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 MSG

When one loses a great love, grief is the result. It’s our last connection to that loved one. The grief will not always bring tears. The grief will not always be paralyzing. Grief will not remain acute. As you move through the process, it becomes chronic: enduring and sometimes recurring. You come to accept the dance with grief. It is bittersweet. A gift of love and memories.