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

Three Years Down, More to Come

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Today, is my 3rd anniversary, the end of one year and the beginning of another in our marriage. I still have moments when I can’t believe that I am Mrs. Douglas. I get to watch him work around the house. I hear his wonderful piano playing. I spy him coaching my daughter how to install cabinets or floors or plumbing. I see him sleeping next to me and say a prayer of thankfulness for this journey in my life.

Our marriage hasn’t been smooth sailing. There have been lots of bumps along the way, some bigger than others. And we have survived. We have learned that their are friends that stick with you through thick and thin. And sadly, that there are others that are just along for the fun and disappear during stress. We’ve endured snide comments and remarks both before and after our wedding. And, through it all, I am so glad that we are together.

I’ve learned that happiness is a choice. No one person or thing will make me happy. But, our marriage has offered numerous opportunities for me to choose happiness. I’m am reminded that love can be hard. However, the benefits of loving another so completely are without measure. I know that blending two families offers immense challenges. And, I adore all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and the effort it takes to get us all together. It’s worth it all!

As we begin the 4th year of our marriage, I am thankful for the wonderful man that is my husband. He is kind and generous. He never meets a stranger. He shelters me and treats me as if I’m made of glass. I love the compliments he gets for pulling out my chair and opening the door for me, acts of chivalry that are not often seen these days. He says what needs to be said and not just what I want to hear. He listens when I disagree or just need to talk it out. He loves me deeply and expresses that in so many ways. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.

I look forward to all the things that God will do in our lives. I KNOW that He has a plan to use both of us. I KNOW that we are loved and cherished Kids of the King. I KNOW that we will have difficulties in the days to come. And, I KNOW that I serve a God that answers prayers so I continue to pray for the miraculous and the wonderful in our lives as well as those that surround us.

His words are kisses, his kisses words. Everything about him delights me, thrills me through and through! That’s my lover, that’s my man, dear Jerusalem sisters.           

Song of Solomon 5:16 MSG

Commitment or Happiness: Do I Have to Choose?

Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.

“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭1:26-28‬ ‭MSG‬‬

“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:29-33‬ ‭MSG‬‬

As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.

In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.

Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.

“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭16:9-12‬ ‭MSG

How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:16-20‬ ‭MSG‬‬

I serve a jealous God.

“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭34:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.

. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
‭‭Ruth‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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.

Love: What You Do Not Want to Miss

We search for love.  We yearn for love.  Sometimes, we fear love.  In Greek, there are four types of love:

  • Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
  • Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well
  • Phileo: Love between friends
  • Eros: The sense of being in love; romantic love

For me, love is everything.  I believe that the God I serve is Love.  I love my children and my family.  I have several wonderful friends for whom I care deeply.  I have been blessed with the love of two wonderful men.  So, when someone asks how I knew that I loved my husband, why is it so difficult to describe?

There are lots of sayings about love:

  • Love is a many splendor thing
  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry
  • Love is something you do
  • Love is natures way of tricking people to reproduce
  • Love means to give everything you have…and not expect anything in return
  • Immature Love is: I love you because I need you.
    Mature Love is: I need you because I love you.
  • Love is making yourself vulnerable to someone, while fully knowing that they may betray you.
  • Love is blind
  • Love is never-ending

There is truth is all of the above statements.  But still, what do we want from love?  Safety, security, companionship?  What?

These are the things about deep and abiding love that I think you just don’t want to miss!

  1. Love is a choice.  We don’t  “fall in love”, rather we it’s probably more accurate to say we “fall in like” or even “in lust”.  We’ve all experienced crushes.  Those moments of elation when you just get to be near the object of your desire.  Your heart beats a little faster.  You just can’t imagine anything better.  Sometimes, crushes lead to relationships.  But, crushes fade away.  As the vision clears, you begin to see the real person.  You can choose to really love them or you move on to the next phase.  Choosing to love someone completely is wonderful.
  2. Love is hard work.  Anything that involves more than one person requires work.  A commitment to love and honor another person is a daily thing.  It means you don’t always get want you want, so you both sacrifice.  When you truly love someone, you look for ways to make their life more complete.
  3. Love doesn’t make you happy.  You may be married to most wonderful person in the world and still be unhappy.  If you are depending on someone else to fulfill you and make you happy, you will NEVER find happiness.  While many of us find happiness in relationships, we have to choose to be happy.  Many solid marriages end in divorce because one or both of the people involved were no longer happy.  Love is working through the unhappiness while still honoring the other person.
  4. Love doesn’t “complete” you.  You are the person God made you to be.  You are not 1/2 a person.  You are full and complete.  You may find someone and become half of a couple, but that person will never complete you.
  5. Love is never-ending, and it is also ever-changing.  The love I have for my husband has deepened since we married two years ago.  My heart still races when I think about him.  But, our relationship is evolving as we have learned to live together.  We learn things about each other every day.  There are new insights, new irritants, new joys and new challenges with every day.

I guess if I had to tell another woman what to look for in love I would say:

  • Look for the man who will take care of you.  I am pretty self-sufficient.  But, I really like it when my husband opens doors and pulls out my chair for me.   (Admittedly, I’ve had to learn to wait and allow him to do so!) I enjoy the flowers that he buys at the grocery store for me.  It’s comforting when he intervenes to protect me from activities that will cause me pain (both emotionally and physically.)  He has shown me how very much he cherishes me.  I do not have to “make” him do things.
  • Find the man who is interested in a partnership.  I can be very bossy.  So can my husband.  But, in our marriage, neither of us is “the boss”.   To do lists are general things that need to be done by either of us, they are not specific to either.  There are things that I do well and there are things that are his strong suit.  We try to bring out the best in each other.
  • Focus on the man who you cannot live without, not just someone you can live with (tolerate).  Deep and passionate love with get you through many intolerable situations.  There have been many people I could “live with” that have come and gone in my life.  But, the ones that I could not imagine doing life without have been very few.
  • Consider the  man who will honor you and wait for you until after the wedding vows.  In today’s world, we’ve come to accept sex as a part of dating.  Very few people get married without having already taken a “test drive” of sorts.  There is something extremely special about being worth the wait and sealing your wedding commitment on your wedding night.
  • Pay attention to the man who helps you feel secure and safe.  Being able to speak your mind and hear his opinions without fear is important.  Knowing that you are loved unconditionally is priceless.

I cannot imagine life without my husband, Tim.  I have experienced the death of a spouse and the pain of that loss was excruciating.  I promised myself that I would never allow anyone close enough to cause that much pain ever again.  But, God had a different plan and I am so very thankful for that!

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Merry What?

It’s December.  Thanksgiving is over and now the countdown to Christmas is ticking away.  I remember the excitement I had as a child as we removed the candy from the Snowman handing my Mother has made.  Everyday, one of us would  untie and remove  whatever sweet was attached and then count how many were left until Christmas.  Of course, I was counting the days until Santa arrived.

When I was older and on my own in Houston for the first time,  I looked forward to the Christmas holidays because I got to go “home” for a few days.  And, I was excited about the gifts I have picked out and purchased for my family with my own money.  There were Christmas parties and decorations all around. I attended my first singing Christmas tree performance.  There was so much to enjoy and  behold.

After I was first married, my husband and I had to figure out our own traditions.  We did Christmas stockings for each other.  And as we had our children, we got to watch their excitement.  My most memorable Christmas was probably when Terry played Santa at on of the local malls.  He so enjoyed visiting with the children and surprising a few of the adults when he called them by name, too.  Our children were excited by the lights and the hoopla, the Christmas programs and the fun.  They took part in searching for the perfect Santa ornament or figure to add to their Dad’s collection.  I watched as they struggled to keep the secret of what was in the package they had picked out just for me.  It was a wonderful time.

Then, death took a huge toll on my holiday excitement.  That Christmas in 2005, I picked out the perfect Santa figure, Santa kneeling at the Manger, and placed it on my husband’s grave site.  There was no headstone.  Just a metal marker and a Christmas wreath my mother had placed there.  I struggled just to make it through the holidays that year.  I wanted my kids to have moments of joy and to forget their sorrow for a bit.  We all tried so hard to just do the normal stuff.  But, there was no more normal for us.

Through the years, we struggled to find our new footing with the holidays.  We put up a tree that was as opposite from traditional as possible:  white with colored lights & purple boas instead of tinsel; orange, pink, lime green and purple ornaments with a large selection of flamingos included.  I would search out the best place to eat out and that would be our Christmas meal.  We spend time with family in Houston and also with my parents in Crowell.   We fell into a rhythm.

I still struggle with the holidays.  Emotionally, it’s still hard.  Now, thankfully, we are part of a blended family.  And while I love it, trying to blend family traditions can be daunting.  Our kids have their own families and in-laws to see over the holidays.  There are grand-parents  that would love a visit.  The sweets and goodies that are expected for holidays are different.  Gift giving is a big area of stress in any family.  How much do you spend?  What should you give? Should we just draw names to make it easier?  Do we open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Materialism can and does get in the way of so much during the holidays.  I’ve been told over and over that if I keep the reason for Christmas in focus, the other stuff won’t matter so much.  And while I agree with the reasoning, I don’t always see that it works to remove all of the stresses that come with the holidays.  I really try to focus on the gift of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season.  And I have real peace and joy about that gift.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t remove family tension or sorrow completely.  There are people all around us that need to FEEL the loving embrace that represents the Christmas season.

So, I continue to wrestle with my emotions during this holiday season.   I wrestle because I want “Peace on Earth” to be a reality, yet even our own family struggles to keep peace at times.  I struggle to make each person feel special and loved and content throughout the holidays.  I tussle  with my personal desire to be the perfect wife, mom, step-mom, daughter and grandmother and failing at it over and over.  I strive to provide a safe and inviting haven for the Holidays to anyone that would need a place.  I grapple with my inclination to shut myself off from everything and everyone until after the first of the new year.

This is a time of year that can be extremely difficult for many.  Take the time to look around and notice those around you, not just the business of the season.  Notice the widow that is without a spouse to share the joys and who wants to participate in the festivities but just doesn’t know how to do it alone.   Notice the single parent struggling to provide just the bare necessities for the family during the holidays.  Notice that single person that has no family around and sees another lonely holiday as just another day.  The first Christmas I spent as a widow, there was always a place saved at church functions for me at a table with some other widowed ladies. They were older than me, but they “got it.”  They understood and reached out to me in a way that I so desperately needed.  Now is the time to reach out and show the love of Christmas to others.

nativity

Little Baby in the manger, I love you,
Lying there, to earth a stranger, I love you;
Wise men saw the star and answered, I love you,
Shepherds heard the angels saying, I love you.

The Gifts of Grief

Grief is not a “gift” one wants.  Grief is forced upon you.   It doesn’t give you a choice.  It’s presence can be over-powering and suffocating.  You move through grief , taking life’s lessons as you go.  It’s not pleasant to endure.   As I look back,  I’m grateful for many of the gifts I received along this journey.

  1.  The more you love, the greater the grief.  On days when grief seemed impossible to endure, I remembered the great love that I had experienced.  And I realized that I wouldn’t have given up a single moment of that love to lessen the grief I was feeling.
  2. Seize the moment. You never know when death will come.  We are only promised this moment.  Don’t wait to tell someone how much you love them.  Never miss a chance to give a hug or smile.  You may not get another opportunity.
  3. Show your appreciation.  It wasn’t until after my husband died that truly realized how important he was to my life on a daily basis.  He prepared paid the bills, shopped for groceries, ran errands, drove me to and from work, held my hand, and listened to me talk.  I lost so much the day he died.  I wish I had thanked him more.
  4. Recognize the gift you have.  I was as guilty as anyone of complaining about my husband’s faults: he snored; he was a dreamer; he procrastinated.  After he was gone, I would have done anything to have one more night laying awake listening to his snoring.
  5. Cherish those you love.  Stop complaining about things that won’t matter in the long run.  Be grateful for the time you have now.  It’s not a competition on who does the most around the house.  Who took out the trash last won’t matter in the long run.  Decide to say only positive things about your spouse or family members to others.  It will change the way you think about the ones you love.
  6. Never miss an opportunity to show love.  Some might think I say “I love you” too much.   But, I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to say those words again.
  7. Relationships that withstand grief will be unbreakable.  My children and I had to learn to be a family of three.  We are probably closer than we would have been had their father lived. We spent lots of time together just trying to survive.  Many people don’t understand the bond that we have.  They don’t understand the reaction my kids have when they hear friends criticizing their own parents.  Others are not prepared for the defenses that come into play when any one of our family is “attacked” verbally or otherwise.  Our interdependence was formed through our grief.  As our family has grown, the defenses have spread out to in-laws and step-family.

When it comes to loving my family and friends, treating every moment as if it may be our last is the greatest  gift I received from Grief.  I never miss a chance to let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  I want all of my kids to know they are precious and loved.  I hold more tightly to those that I love because I’ve learned the value of  that love.

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“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 NIV