Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
When I’m tempted to start my day with worry, sadness, frustration or disappointment, I turn my eyes upward and focus on God who is the source of my joy. Then I muster up the will to find the good and perfect gifts throughout the day. They are here but the negative emotions can cloud my ability to see them.
In my grief, I know how important it is to feel my emotions and not bottle them up. I shared a part of my grief journey in A Way Through.
I have a myriad of emotions that rise up in me daily. I don’t stuff them but try hard not to wallow in them either. That has been a choice. It’s a choice that recycles my emotional pain and takes me to positive places in my heart and mind.
The photo above is from Valentine’s Day 2020 … right before the pandemic. It popped up as a feature photo on my phone and my heart dropped. Oh how I miss him, I thought. My emotions began to take me down the rabbit hole of sadness and for longings to have Bob with me again.
But as I looked at it for awhile I put myself back in the picture, sitting across from Bob in the little restaurant called Dr. Rolfs Barbecue.
I remembered the white chicken chili we had for lunch, what we were talking and laughing about and how Bob picked up his straw like he was smoking. I shook my head but he kept making me laugh so I finally snapped the photo with my phone. I’m glad I have it now.
We talked about how we enjoyed the cornbread waffles that they made fresh daily. A small slice was included with each bowl of chili but before that day we had never ordered the dessert waffles. The plate of waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream that was pictured on the menu caught my attention. Bob said, “It’s Valentine’s Day, let’s order it.” And we did.
After lunch we took a walk through the streets of downtown before going home.
I give thanks for this Valentine’s Day memory.
The memories are a gift. In a world that can often be dark and troublesome, there are still good and perfect gifts everywhere. Sometimes the hard places are gifts too, because they bring us to the Creator of everything perfect and good who helps us through all things.
Go hug a loved one. Count your gifts. Someday they will be wonderful memories to relive and you’ll carry them in your heart forever.
“You will embark,” he said, “on a fair sea, and at times there will be fair weather, but not always. You will meet storms and overcome them. You will take it in turns to steer your boat through fair weather and foul. Never lose courage. Safe harbor awaits you both in the end.” —Daphne Du Maurier
We have met storms and they didn’t overcome us. The promise of a safe harbor kept us going but one of us has reached the safe harbor and one of us is left to navigate the rest of the way alone.
On August 29, 2022, I wrote:Looking for my Rainbow. It was the day after Bob was taken by ambulance to the hospital for the last time.
I said my final goodbye to my beloved husband on September 2, 2022 as he exited earth for his eternal home. He reached his safe harbor. For the last few months I have been slowly learning how to live as ‘me’ instead of ‘we’.
The loss of Bob is accompanied by other losses. Grief has a ripple effect. These are often referred to as secondary losses. The tasks Bob did and decisions he made that he no longer does is a loss. Being Bob’s caregiver, as hard as it was at times, is a loss and I miss it. I grieve his sense of humor, coffee together, deep conversations, driving to and walking in favorite little towns along our lakeshore. Now just driving through our city alone is hard. Memories of our life together here surface and waves of grief come again and again. Today is his birthday and I grieve not being able to make a special dinner and his favorite cake or dessert. I missed greeting him this morning with a kiss and a gift or card. These losses and more take me by surprise but I know it’s all part of healing. Each one must be felt and not buried if I want to move forward.
Mind over matter doesn’t work in the middle of grief. Nor does trying to harness the power of positive thinking. It cannot be willed away. As uncomfortable as it is, grief must be felt. I am experiencing the truth of that… we cannot not grieve when going through loss.
There’s a sweetness in the grief at times and that surprises me too. Tears bring relief and healing. It always helps to just let them flow. I’ve read in several grief recovery books that if grief is bottled up it won’t go away. It will just build up like the steam in a tea kettle until the pressure has to be released and will come out at inappropriate times and in unhealthy ways. We can’t avoid it, push it away, try to mask it or run away from the intense feelings. So I’m taking it slow, easy and letting the process unfold.
I don’t know what I’d do if I was alone in the process. Sons, daughter-in-law, grandchildren can’t take away the void I feel but being with family and sharing memories of Bob’s love and presence in our lives becomes a buffer. It helps all of us. My two sisters have been saving my life. Although they haven’t experienced what I’m going through, they keep in close contact with me and check in on me often. Family has been a soft place to land.
Women who have lost husbands reached out to me and long time relationships with some of them have deepened and new relationships with others are developing. It’s encouraging to be in the company of women who understand each other’s pain. These women are a gift. We are a gift to one another.
The sweetness of grieving is also felt in my relationship with God. Honesty in prayer has opened up a deeper, richer relationship with Him.
He is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
I dislike the word widow. It’s hard for me to utter the word but with this new status comes something good that I would never want to miss or avoid. My God holds me closer than ever now. It’s his promise to me. He states it over and over again in the Bible and I just learned recently that there are 103 scripture references to widows, revealing the importance I hold in the heart of God. Widows are included with prisoners, orphans — the voiceless — the oppressed–the powerless — and He promises to uphold us and speak for us.
Through all the pain, sorrow and heartache, I have been invited into the arms of my Savior and my God. He is listening, defending and touching my heart and His promises to me hold true.
I wrote the following poem many years ago for a grieving friend:
SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS
In the arms of Jesus
is where your loved one rests
and you can be assured
that’s where he’s truly blessed.
No more pain or suffering
now free from all sorrow
in the midst of singing angels
there is a bright tomorrow.
For all of Heaven’s days are bathed
in the brilliance of God’s light
there’s no more fear of darkness
for in Heaven there’s no night.
Remember, in your deepest sorrow,
you grieve not without hope
and the one who holds your loved one close
is the one who’ll help you cope.
My beloved, Bob, has reached the safe harbor and I am being helped, loved and cared for by the One who welcomed him to safety. Bob reached that distant shore first. Now with confidence in God’s guidance and the memory of Bob alive in my heart, I will move toward that harbor where both of them will someday welcome me home.
The featured photo was taken on the shores of Lake Michigan
On a not too hot summer day with lots of sunshine and low humidity, we were exploring a quaint little shoreline town. The whole vibe was creative with local artists filling boutiques with one of a kind pieces of art. Resale shops and restaurants lined the bay. Good company, food, fun and laughter filled the day. I was with family … my husband, two sisters, their husbands and my youngest son and his girlfriend. The day couldn’t have been more perfect.
We took a walk on the pier, had lunch on the waterfront, visited a couple more shops and then headed toward the car. As we passed a boutique where I spotted a candle earlier, I told the group that I was going to go inside to purchase it. They said that they’d meet me in the car that was just a few feet from the store.
I walked over to the candle section and noticed the sky getting dark out the side window. What is happening, I thought. The bright blue sky was turning gray quickly. As the lights went out in the store, I followed the other customers to the window. The wind was shaking the little shop. As I looked outside, I saw trees being uprooted by the wind and thrown to the ground, people were trying to run for cover but the wall of rain and wind pushed against them and they began to fall or be lifted up and tossed around like rag dolls. That’s when I saw my family race away in our vehicle. They left me behind. Customers clutched each other and began to cry.
Trying to console them I yelled, “Look for your rainbow! Look for your rainbow!”
I saw light on the the other side of the store, ran toward the windows in that space and I exclaimed, “Look, look!” I turned in their direction, “Come here,” and they ran over to me. Out that large picture window in front of us were rolling green hills, dotted with flowers and birds and butterflies flying about. The sun was rising behind the hills brighter and brighter. Over the sun a colorful rainbow arched over the expanse of the sky.
Look for your rainbow! Look for your rainbow! Look for your rainbow! It was a mantra that I kept repeating as I woke up from that dream in the wee hours of the morning.
It was July, 2017 and a year and a half after my husband’s bone marrow transplant. He would be prepped for open heart surgery soon. I jumped out of bed to get ready to drive to the hospital repeating the phrase, look for your rainbow, look for your rainbow. I held onto the hope that it would come after the storm.
There have been many rainbows to light up our sky in the last 7 years as Bob and I have weathered many storms with his health.
Last night I drove to the hospital in a literal storm. My windshield wipers were working overtime but with the sheets of rain coming down it was hard to see clearly. With the wind howling, thunder roaring and lightning flashing I prayed behind the ambulance that was transporting my husband to the hospital.
Make a way, Lord. I cannot not see ahead in this literal storm nor can I see my way clear in yet another circumstantial storm. You are my WayMaker, you are our WayMaker. I trust you again and again and yet again.
So here we are. In another storm of life but I am looking for my rainbow and my Abba Father will bring hope out of this seemingly hopeless situation. I’ve seen it before and I’ll see it again. With each storm He has been good to us and He will be good again. That’s His promise. I not only see it in every rainbow after every storm but through the storms.
Pen in hand my words glide across the pages of my journal. I’m always writing but my words don’t always make it to my blog.
I’ve been enjoying the summer, meditating on what’s good and lovely and making space for quiet reflection. It has been worth every moment of pulling away from my computer and my devices that bring me to places of constant information. Most of which isn’t worthy of my attention. Even the news around the world has the potential to enslave and keep me in a trap of darkness where it can seem there isn’t any hope.
A friend of mine said that while chatting with another friend this week they spiraled down the dark side of world news. She told me she finally exclaimed, “No! We can’t do that. We will take action where we can but we need to remain hopeful. We will amplify our happy and remain strong so we can persevere.”
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself spiraling down that same rabbit hole. Thankfully I pulled myself out, as I realized my mind wasn’t in a good place, and planted my feet back on solid ground again.
The daily news and the chaos of social media often fuels our propensity to lash out at anyone who holds a different view or opinion. We no longer live in community with others, trying to understand with the possibility of even learning from one another. The discord has pushed us into a ‘me and them’ mentality and we divide ourselves into tribes. There’s more arguing and less communicating. Wanting to win debates takes precedence over kindness and that can make us look with contempt on anyone who disagrees with us. All this makes me want to escape to a remote island far, far away.
But instead I take walks to the beach near my house. To get there I walk a wooded path and my mind clears, I feel lighter, free and in a better mood.
Years ago after moving to the shoreline of Michigan, I met a friend who told me that going to the beach is full of negative ions and will lift my mood anytime I needed it. Since then I’ve done my own research on negative ions … in nature only … not in the air purifiers that claim to do what nature does. I learned that nature (especially near water or after a thunderstorm) is full of the benefits of negative ions. But that’s a whole different topic. You can do your own research but I’m sure you know the calming effects of nature. It’s worth the walk.
Another activity that’s been saving me from all the noise lately is an online community of women from all over the U.S. and beyond. We are studying the book titled, “Waymaker” by Ann Voskamp.
Using the acronym S.A.C.R.E.D., takes us on a deep dive into what gives us stability and direction…a compass, so to speak, that reorients us in our relationship with God.
S Stillness to Know God
A Attentiveness to Hear God
C Cruciformity to Surrender to God
R Revelation to See God
E Examine to Return to God
D Doxology to Thank God
Stillness. It has been my quest this summer and I have found peace in my sacred place, whether a quiet corner in my home or out in nature, especially my hikes to the beach.
The peace I’m experiencing isn’t the absence of conflict or hardship but the presence of something much greater. It’s Shalom. This Hebrew word, from the Bible, has been translated into the word peace but it’s so much more than that. Shalom is the presence of goodness, thriving, right relationships with God, ourselves, and others. Shalom is living in harmony with all of God’s creation … it’s what God intended. It’s perfect peace.
You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3
Many years ago, He restored Shalom to me in Jesus. A bringing back to Himself but I must continue to work that out, because I am fickle. I carry with me the human condition and this summer there is more working it out and I will do that for the rest of my life. The working out is never finished this side of Heaven.
This is where I am, what I’ve been up to. Although Shalom can be experienced anywhere, I’m enveloped in it when I let go of any worldly attempts to find it. Stillness has been my soft spot to land, away from the maddening crowd and into the hands of Shalom, because peace isn’t a place but a person.
The path I walk daily is familiar. My stride lands on well known ground. It’s the easy way, the calming, breezy way.
My path crosses another familiar trail. I always look to the right down the hilly terrain longing to step that way again but memories stop me.
It’s a harder path, taking more effort to walk the inclines but that’s not what stops me.
The way to the right is the path Bob and I always walked together. My companion and I encouraging each other along the way. Talking about the events of the day. Sorting through tough decisions. Some days joking and laughing as we walked. It was the route we took together for exercise.
We always enjoyed the scenery, the wild life near the creek and the beauty of our surroundings. When we got to the creek, he would stop to see what he could spot. He liked to watch for fish swimming near the surface of the water and turtles wandering close to the edge of the creek. He’d point out the beavers, ducks, swans and geese. I wanted to keep up our pace but he was full of wonder and it was contagious so we often lingered there before continuing our hike.
While out walking yesterday, when I came to that intersection I turned right. I started down the hill on the path we used to walk together but stopped halfway and turned back to the easy path. At the top of the hill, I looked back again. ‘It won’t be easy but you can do it,’ I encouraged myself. I tried again.
Pushing myself to conquer the first incline, I realized how out of condition I was for this path. But remembered, in years past, when winter gave way to spring it was always difficult on the first hike. As we continued to walk that path, it became easier and by fall we walked it with ease.
Yesterday I found it more physically difficult than my usual route but emotionally it was even harder.
Tears I tried to push back welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t help but feel a deep loneliness. I missed the company of the one who walked this familiar path with me for many years. Thinking back on the times we spent together on our walks, brought bittersweet memories to the surface.
I knew with each step I was walking toward wholeness so I continued on. Not letting the ache dictate what I can or cannot do, I leaned into all my emotions. I felt the feelings and let the reality of what was wash over me. Being present in it is ok. It’s the hard but healthy way. ‘I can’t let this undo me,’ are words I say often.
Even in the middle of the hard I experienced something good.
Finally after a late start to spring, everywhere I looked I saw pops of color.
Sadness and joy can coexist. I let both ebb and flow. First one and then the other.
When I returned home, I gave Bob his breathing treatment.
While he finished the treatment, I blended a smoothie for him. Smoothies seem to be a good and nutritious choice to increase his calories as his appetite decreases. I handed him the smoothie and he put the tv on.
We’ve been recording the second season of “Searching for Italy” with Stanley Tucci and we watched the 3rd episode. We always hoped to visit Italy someday so we are truly enjoying the scenery and culture of our ancestral land.
Bob hasn’t lost his wonder. He points out little details in the scenery that I sometimes miss in this series.
We still talk, discuss serious and not so serious situations, joke, laugh and pray together.
I’d like this all to be a little easier but there’s still good, growth and conditioning happening on this hard way…just like there is on the harder walking path. The conditioning is preparing me for all the other hard places that may come my way in the future. I can endure, push through with God’s grace, and not allow any of it to become my undoing.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4;13
What have you learned or grown from while traveling down a hard road?
Last week my husband received a call from a long time friend. It was someone he grew up with, graduated from high school with, went off to serve in the military with and someone who was a groomsman in our wedding.
He hadn’t spoken to him in over a year. While they talked, I left for a 3 mile walk.
When I returned, they were still talking.
His friend was weary. Very weary. He could only see the shadows in life.
Somewhere in the conversation the topic turned to Heaven and to the release and relief that Heaven will bring us from this world that seems to have gone mad.
But one thing his friend said to my husband really got to him. His friend’s words went something like this: “I just hope that I can be good enough to get into Heaven.”
Bob assured him that it isn’t his goodness that will gain his entry into internal life with God, but what God did for him. Bob pointed him in the direction of Christ and told him he’d email him some verses from the Bible.
In that email Bob shared some verses from the book of Romans that is rich with the message of salvation.
His friend saw light break through his shadows and thanked my husband for his help and told him it made sense to him now. They will talk again soon.
All my conversations with people lately have had that same common reality. Weariness.
The state of the world weighs heavy on them. Then add their own personal hardships and life can seem unbearable.
One morning recently I woke up at dawn and looked out my kitchen window. I could see tall beech trees casting shadows but what caught my attention, more than the shadows, was the sun rising behind them. In between the dark tree trunks, I saw light poking through. There will always be light if we look through the shadows of life.
I think of the lines from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
I threw open my window and allowed the breeze to catch my curtain, breathing in with the breeze to begin again and exhaling all that gets in the way of my peace.
I wrote the following poem as I thought about all the weary travelers:
It’s Good Friday. A day Christians reflect and remember. A day to consider and contemplate. It’s a day to rejoice, because without the cross there would be no salvation. Without the cross there wouldn’t be an empty tomb. Without the empty tomb there wouldn’t be a resurrection. Because of the resurrection, death has been defeated. Because He lives, we will too … forever!
There’s a lot going on. I’ve been reeling from the messy/busyness of life lately.
I found myself making mental notes and trying to figure out a plan of action for the next few months. The only problem was it happened at 3:00am in the morning.
Finally after tossing and turning for awhile, I got up and jotted my thoughts down on a piece of paper. I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep…maybe 3, who knows? It was a rough night.
At 6am sitting in my quiet home, I realized I was not just trying to set goals and put everything in order during those wakeful hours. It was more like mulling over the what, where, when, ifs and everything that could happen and how I would handle it all. I thought I needed a plan ahead of time and wanted to be prepared.
Bob got up and I said, I can do a lot but I can’t do everything.
He said, “I really don’t know how you’re doing it all now. I couldn’t do what you’re doing. Let me pray for you.”
I was deeply humbled by his words. This man who has endured so much on his long and complicated medical journey, who has been on the receiving end of countless prayers was reaching in my direction to help me. But that’s nothing new. He often does that for me and others as well.
Bob gave me a gift. It was the gift of being seen, known and heard. He gave me permission to be human. It was something I needed that morning and a big weight seemed to drop from my shoulders as he prayed for me. Ahh…the grace of God.
My fretting through the night (over what may or may not happen in the future) was hindering the gift of grace I needed at that moment. Trying to receive God’s future grace doesn’t work. That gift doesn’t come early.
I think of my friend, Bonnie, who lost her husband recently. She told me that the only way she can make it through this difficult season is by just taking one small step at a time and not look at the big picture. In her words … “I am learning that one day or even one hour at a time is much more doable. It’s too hard to think very far ahead.”
Living in the moment. I know it’s the best way to get through any day. I don’t have to worry about the future because God is already there. I don’t need to have everything figured out. He already does and there will be grace waiting for me to meet every challenge. These are words I often share with others but needed to speak them to myself again that morning. I reminded myself of all the times grace met me during past challenges.
Then later that day, I went outside for a walk thinking it would help clear my mind of any leftover intrusive thoughts. As I started down my driveway, I remembered a quote that I heard recently:
“To a man on a mountain road by night a glimpse of the next 3 feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.” C.S. Lewis
On my 45 minute walk, I focused only on the 3 feet in front of me. Keeping my mind fixed on the moment, not trying to focus too far ahead or think about anything beyond the present.
As I walked, I saw thin blades of green grass poking through the soil. I heard birds singing, children playing and I greeted neighbors with a friendly hello as they passed by.
When I got home, I walked through my yard and noticed that my crocuses were blooming. Their delicate, soft lilac petals whispered hope.
My tiny crocuses didn’t labor or spin. The passage from Matthew 6 :25-34 about worry sprang to mind. Just as my Heavenly Father takes care of my spring blooms, He will take care of me.
Peace returned with an assurance that I would have what I needed with each step I took that day and in the future. God’s grace met me as my attention shifted from all the messy stuff of life to what was happening right in front of me.
I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I can’t see the horizon but I know God is with me now and He’s in the future ready to help me handle the next 3 feet when I get there. His gift of grace is waiting for me. It will be right on time.
God’s grace in the next 3 feet. It’s all I need and it’s always enough.
I’m waiting for my crocuses to bloom. It should be any day now. They are the first bloomers in my yard. I can always depend on them to make their appearance by the middle of March. Spring holds so much hope.
Saturday was a glorious day. Knowing we were nearing the end of the cold season, hope started rising up in me.
I walked outdoors. My sun kissed cheek lifted toward the sky. My eyes focused on the blue sky around the sun and I inhaled deeply finally breathing out a big sigh of relief. This winter-weary soul was ready to enjoy the 58 degree weather even if it was just for one day. The forecast revealed that It would turn cold again with snow flurries within 48 hours. I wasn’t going to let the day end without enjoying it.
I traded my walk on the treadmill for a nature walk and I was almost giddy with joy with each step that I took.
The trees are still bare, small piles of snow still litter the landscape but I could see grass and hear birds singing and that was enough to make me hopeful.
Even though not much is blooming or growing yet, I know that there’s something happening beneath the earth. In that darkness, bulbs are sprouting and getting ready to push their way through the ground. Acorns are turning into oak trees. Perennials are being nourished in the dark wet ground as their roots grow deeper. Preparations for the growing season are happening in places that we can’t see.
What appears to be dead is only resting, waiting and gaining more strength. Soon flowers will bloom. The brown grass will turn green. New birth; new growth will come again.
I think that’s why I love spring so much. It holds so much promise after a long winter.
Its similar to our Spiritual life after we go through a winter of the soul. It happens to all of us, in one way or another, in this broken world.
In the harshest of times when we’re in the wildernesses of a life experience, we can always be assured, though it’s dark and nothing seems to be growing, something is always happening.
In those dark places, just beneath the surface, that you and I cannot see, there is growth occurring and someday at just the right time it will sprout and we will notice it. Where there was once sadness, joy will return like a little seed growing in our soul. We may notice that we have more wisdom, courage, less fear, more faith, less negativism, more hope, less selfishness, more compassion … we are blooming in ways that couldn’t happen without the winter.
If we’ve prepared, cultivated, grown, bloomed, watered and nurtured the new growth, we may be surprised when the next winter of our soul appears. We may even ask the question, “How can something so cold and harsh happen again?”
Remembering that gardens know how to withstand harsh winters and that life is still growing under the snow is a helpful reminder that we too will survive another soul winter.
We’re always growing, becoming better but winter still comes to those flourishing places that we tended to in the past. Maybe lessons learned are growing deeper, roots are taking stronger hold, making us sturdier and stronger in our faith. We don’t see what is happening beneath the surface but something good is always happening in the winter.
Whatever the outcome, winter has its purpose and spring with all its new growth and flourishing always comes again.