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.
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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

 

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“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.

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“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.

SHHHHH!

The Old Ways

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Anyone that has been around me for very long knows that I love music.  There are few things as satisfying to me as singing really tight well tuned harmonies with others.  That’s one of the reasons I love to sing the “old” hymns.  They were written for harmony.  With that type of music, you don’t need all the instrumentation:  the voices are the instruments.

But, I also love the “new” music (at least some of it!)  Technology has moved us past simple piano/organ accompaniments.  We now have  so  many variations of guitars, drums, keyboards, etc.   It’s fun to see all of the components fit together and the excitement often builds with the noise level.

I get amused when people start comparing music styles.  The argument for singing hymns is often the history and the message in each of them.  I jokingly refer to the  blue Baptist Hymnal with which I grew up as “God’s Hymnal.”  Between the King James Bible and the Baptist Hymnal, we had a lock on all things religiously important!  I still love many of the hymns from that hymnal:  #96 At Calvary, #240 Just as I Am.  I knew the page numbers of the hymns we sang quite often by heart.  I could also sing verses 1, 2 & 4 from memory for many of those.

But changes occur.  The first ripple I remember was “The Good News for Modern Man” version of the Bible.  It was easier to understand, but was still not treated as “THE Bible.”  Then came the Living Bible and the New American Standard Bible.  Newer translations and paraphrases were used more and more.  The New International Version moved onto the scene as well as The Message and countless others.  And none caused a bigger stir in the Baptist world as the introduction of the NEW Baptist Hymnal.  The hymn numbers were different.  They included some of the “new” songs like “Pass It On” and “He’s Everything to Me.” Some people still were lamenting the loss of the Broadman Hymnal with the shaped notes and the “real” hymns.  I remember the comments at the time.  But, we  moved forward and the world as we know it did not end.  We continued to have church, we continued to sing.  We just did it differently.

Just as I use various translations and paraphrases of the Bible to study and learn, I use different styles of music to worship and enjoy.  “The Old Rugged Cross” is still dear to me.  “Victory in Jesus” will never go out of style.  And the memories that these older songs bring up are precious indeed.  My college years were filled with music by Amy Grant, Dallas Holme & Praise, the Imperials and other contemporary artists of the day.  They were loud and new-fangled to my parents, but they are old-fashioned to my kids way of thinking.

I recently had a conversation with one of my daughters and she commented on the old music being played by the local Christian radio station.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  The “old” stuff was MercyMe, Chris Tomlin, and other artists I still consider relevant.  But, the praise music we hear today is more often from Bethel, Elevation, or the newest Hillsong iteration.  Within Contemporary Christian music, a new division has been emerged:  Praise and Worship.  The other stuff is just old and boring.

I will continue to enjoy both the old and the new.  There are new versions of the old hymns introduced every year.  Who hasn’t been moved by “My Chains are Gone” or “The Wonderful Cross” or “Cornerstone”.  All use hymns as their basis.  I can’t wait to see where music is in 10 years.  Will “What a Beautiful Name” or “Oceans” join the ranks of “Because He Lives” and “Shout to the Lord” as “old” hymns?  Will we continue our trek back to tighter harmonies and more unplugged sessions?  Just as fashions seem to come back into style and translations change, what music will be popular again?

And in case you’re interested, there are songs that move me to tears in just a few notes:  “The Strategic Air Command March”, “Under the Double Eagle” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  All are marches (not hymns) that bring up some very bright and wonderful memories for me of my years playing trombone with my high school band.  Music speaks to the soul.  You may have a particular genre that you prefer and that is just fine.  Please allow that others react differently.  Just because it’s new (and maybe loud) don’t discard it immediately.  Let God use His music of all kinds to speak to you.

19 Talk with each other much about the Lord, quoting psalms and hymns and singing sacred songs, making music in your hearts to the Lord. 20 Always give thanks for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Ephesians 5:19-20 TLB

Only the memories. . .

Today I signed the final papers to sell my Katy home.  Terry and I bought this house in 1994, right before Zachary was to start kindergarten.  At the time, there were lots of kids to play with in the cul-de-sac.   This was to be our started house, until we could afford something bigger.  We spent the last 11 years of our marriage in this home.

munsey front yard

This is the place that Zac and Gracie learned to ride their bikes.  This is the place where Zachary lost his tooth when he crashed his scooter while trying to show off for the neighbors.  This is the yard that Zachary planted his very own Hibiscus plant and watched it flourish.  This is the neighborhood where both Gracie and Zachary learned to drive.

The house is empty now.  But, the memories still echo in my mind.  I raised my children in this house.  I learned to survive after being widowed in this house.  Lassie, Aislyn, Maynard, PuP, Bulldozer, Crystal, Tiger & Charlie as well as numerous fish, hamsters & hermit crabs were loved and lived in this house with us.

We played. We laughed. We loved. We cried. We fought. And we loved some more in this house.  This is no longer our home.  It’s the house that we made into a home.

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I will always have the memories to cherish.  Thank you Munsey house.