IMG_0095Today marks the 20th month since Patrick’s death. Most people begin rounding up at this point, but I find myself still looking at that 26th day every month and knowing full well which number is coming next. While I have stopped counting every Wednesday as weeks, my heart cannot yet start to speak in terms of annual or biannually. I can’t “round-up” when I am still trudging through this valley of the shadow of death, one painful step at a time. Life without Patrick continues to be an effort, daily moving forward by God’s grace and sheer will, but certainly not “moving on.” There is barely an hour that goes by that I have not either spoken about Patrick or thought about him. He is still a vital part of my life.

This month as the calendar approached the 26th, I found myself taken completely by surprise by the onset of the viral phenomenon, known as the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” A couple of weeks ago, someone brought it to my attention and my first reaction was not real positive. After briefly looking online for the history of it (which even that has been questioned), I then determined to just ignore it. I have been pretty good about ignoring most news and politics for the last 2 years, which may surprise many of you since I used to be a “news junkie.” However, I soon realized that this could not be ignored as more and more friends, family and co-workers took part and many were doing so in honor of Patrick. Even Paige and Parker made the decision to participate.

Although I knew there were many messages being sent to me via Facebook, I will admit that I stayed off social media for over a week because I just couldn’t “go there” every night and watch and hear stories about ALS and Patrick. It takes a lot of emotional energy and I need to take things like this in small segments of time. Being in the right frame of mind is essential.

So this past weekend, I did catch up and watch the videos and messages that I had been tagged in. I also took some time to read a few more articles about it. There is a lot of information out there. Many articles promoting it and many against it and I found some truth in every article I read. As with any subject, every author comes from a different angle and has some point (or agenda) they want to highlight. In addition, I had a few messages asking me if I know anything about which organization uses stem cells for research and which ones do not.  The truth is that I have not made the disease of ALS my focus, so I don’t have a lot of those answers.

Rather than debate any one of the pros and cons of whether this video challenge is trivializing something that’s very painful for those with a family member suffering with ALS or whether it’s a great marketing tactic, I’d prefer to just share some random thoughts that are important to me after losing my husband to this awful disease.

About ALS:

  1. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – Learn how to pronounce it and be able to describe it.
  2. It is a neurological disease. The brain’s messages stop getting to the muscles so they stop working.  Most other countries call it Motor Neuron Disease (MND).
  3. It’s like becoming paralyzed in your own body. Thus the ice in the challenge was meant to feel like the numbness an ALS patient feels.
  4. Anyone can get ALS, regardless of gender or age.
  5. It is fatal – a death sentence. No cure. Only meds to treat the symptoms.
  6. Most die in less than 5 years. Patrick died 12 months after diagnosis and he was only aware of his symptoms a few months prior to that.
  7. Of all the muscles to lose, I believe the worst is losing the ability to talk and chew. Eight out of 10 ALS patients lose the ability to speak.
  8. This is not a painless disease. It is cruel and causes not only physical pain, but also extreme emotional pain.
  9. ALS does not affect the mental capacity. ALS patients know exactly what is happening to them and around them.

About the Ice Bucket Challenge:

  1. Regardless of how it started, it has indeed raised an unprecedented amount of money for ALS research.
  2. In spite of taking thousands of lives each year for over 70 years, ALS has been relatively unknown and grossly underfunded.
  3. Research is needed for this disease and research does cost money. Lots of money.
  4. As with any organization to which you would consider donating money, you should thoroughly research how the money is spent.
  5. I do not endorse nor promote any certain ALS organization because honestly I have not had the time, energy or desire to thoroughly search them out yet myself. (Here is what a friend of mine has recently discovered).
  6. I am not keeping track of who does this challenge and/or who promises to donate. I know all of you who have stood by Patrick before he died and continue to stand by the kids and me since his death. No one has anything to prove to our family. We love you and are grateful whether you dump ice on your heads or not.
  7. However, if you have felt led to participate, I am touched by your comments about Patrick and your memories of him. It does encourage me and mean a lot to hear you talk about him.

Ways to help someone with ALS:

  1. Pray for them, specifically asking for grace and endurance.
  2. Support the family in any way possible. If you are not close to the family, ask someone else who is what you can do. Don’t ask the family themselves – just find something to do and do it. Sometimes there really is nothing to do but pray.
  3. When you see the person with ALS, look them in the eye and talk to them normally. Do not talk about them to their caregiver. They are still the same person they were before. They may not be able to answer in the same way, but they need to know you realize they are who they used to be.
  4. Be patient and don’t ask the family for updates all the time. This disease can’t be predicted to follow any certain path. If something major changes, you will find out. Otherwise, it’s just a daily decline and the family is trying to enjoy the good moments, not guess what is going to happen next.

What Patrick would have thought about all this:

  1. He would want people to understand the disease.
  2. He would be ok with money given to research; after all he chose to donate his body for ALS research. It was his final wish and one that I spent hours and days on the phone getting set up, all the while sitting next to him in his chair as he nodded and told me to not give up. (Yes, he was still delegating even without his speech!)
  3. He would have had fun with this challenge and done it himself, if possible.
  4. He would have laughed at the good times and creative ways many of you have come up with.

However….here’s what Patrick would have said about all this:

  1. As important as research for ALS is, there is something more important. He mentioned back in his blog on January 8, 2012 that his biggest problem was not his fatal disease. It was his need for a Savior.
  2. Regardless of whether it’s a disease or a car accident, all of us WILL die eventually. Therefore, considering eternity is of the utmost importance.
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to us and according to the Bible is our only way to Heaven (John 14:6).
  4. We can have a personal relationship with Jesus which will answer our biggest problem (of sin) for eternity and that same relationship gives us a hope and a reason to live here on earth now.
  5. Patrick preached his last sermon (after his speech was already greatly diminished) explaining the two choices each person must make: to live either God’s way or man’s way. He shared his personal story of how God came into His life and turned it around when he was a teen. From that point on, Patrick dedicated his life to telling others about Jesus. At his Celebration of Life service (aka funeral) that he planned in advance, he wanted the Gospel preached and for all of us to worship together, knowing that we have an eternal hope.
  6. Finally, I know that Patrick would share with others that giving finances to any church, mission or organization that promotes the Gospel is ultimately the best and safest investment because it’s the only one that answers our greatest need.

I have no idea why God has brought ALS to the world’s attention, 20 months after He took my husband to his eternal home by way of this awful disease.   However, I don’t believe in coincidences. This isn’t about Patrick and it’s not about this particular disease either. There are many awful forms of cancer, incurable infections and even “freak accidents” that take peoples’ lives every hour. I am reminded that death and disease are a result of the broken, shattered world we live in because of the effects of sin. We are always shocked at death. We hate it because it’s not natural. But Jesus did not come to give us “our best life now.” He told us that “in this world we would have trouble, but to not despair because He has overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We are to expect trials anPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00061]d tribulations. This truth, however, is contrary to our culture’s way of thinking that we are to have maximum pleasure and minimum pain. Truthfully nothing in this world will ever bring ultimate satisfaction, no matter how hard we try to fill the void.   Nothing, that is, outside of God and my personal relationship with His Son, Jesus.

Do I hope that a cure is discovered for ALS?  Absolutely.  Do I think awareness and fundraisers are helping?  For sure.  Is there something I care about more?  Definitely.  It’s actually someone:  Jesus Christ.  One day in Heaven, all those who are His followers will live without pain, disease, sin and death (Revelation 21).

Patrick’s story….. my story…. and your story…. They are just tiny parts of the whole picture of God’s kingdom.   That is the Kingdom in which I place my hope… for it is the only Kingdom that cannot be shaken. Therefore I will offer God acceptable worship with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

A collection of Patrick’s sermons was published in a book and can be purchased from Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions.

25 Years of Weddings

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

25th anniversary blog photos

When you are married to a pastor, you attend a lot of weddings. And as a Pastor of Student Ministries for his entire career, Patrick took part in numerous weddings, either officiating or leading in some way. Weddings were monumental events for both of us as we watched former students making life choices. They grew up before our very eyes and we were excited to watch as they began this new phase of life. Staying at one church a long time means as the years went on, we were more and more connected with the families celebrating the special occasion.

Before Patrick became sick, my memories of weddings all blend together. The date put on the calendar, the gift purchased and the outfit (including Patrick’s tie color of the bride’s choice) chosen. When the day arrived, Patrick left early to prepare. Later, I would find a friend to join in the auditorium. Afterwards, we connected to go to the reception where we enjoyed the night together.

After his diagnosis, I remember weddings much more clearly. There was one already on the schedule a few months out. He tried to tell the bride he should withdraw because his speech was starting to slur. She insisted she still wanted him to speak, which he did. I stood in the very back of the church, not able to breath, listening to his slow speech; wondering if he would make it through; still in shock that this was happening.

That was his last wedding to officiate; all the others he did have to back out of. The next wedding was odd because he sat next to me during the service; like regular attendees. He wasn’t a part of it and we all knew he should have been. At the reception I carried his plate through the line as he pointed to what he wanted. I vividly remember carrying his plate back to the table and cutting up his food.

The last wedding Patrick attended was in October 2012, only eight weeks before he died. It took so much effort to get him there. The wheelchair barely fit between the tables. He could only smile and nod. Not able to eat, he sat there watching the rest of us dine on amazing food. He tired quickly, but insisted I stay longer, and had Parker drive him home. Later, he told me how hard it was to watch everyone eat…I still feel terrible about that.

Since Patrick’s death, I have been attending weddings alone. Obviously, it’s quite a bit different from just sitting alone during a ceremony. Just eight weeks into my life without Patrick, I forced myself to go to one out of respect and love for the two getting married. I knew Patrick would have wanted me to go. I was in a daze the whole time, still feeling like I had a huge neon sign over my head shouting, “Her husband is dead – she’s a widow.” I barely remember who I sat with at the reception; it’s really all a fog. I know I zoned out a lot that night. The bride’s mom and I talked; she knew how hard it was for me to be there and she thanked me.

The rest of the weddings of 2013 are a blur. I think I missed a few. I know I walked out of one during a song. Sometimes as I sat listening to the message, I would think of our own wedding. Death was the last thing on my mind when I made my vows to Patrick, and it’s most likely not on the mind of current brides and grooms. But in this cycle of life, it is a fact that most likely one of the two making promises will have to watch the other one die.

Now the wedding season of 2014 is here; Many weddings I can’t miss, nor do I want to. Last month brought the first barn wedding. Apprehensive at first, I was thankful Parker was going with me. As the wedding began, I smiled thinking of Patrick’s part in the bride and groom’s life as well as in the lives of both sets of parents. I thought of how Patrick saw the beginning of the couple’s love relationship and how he’d be smiling that the wedding had come to fruition.

But as is typical with grief, waves of emotion often hit unexpectedly. And this time, it happened as the pastor got up to begin the challenge. You see, it wasn’t our senior pastor, as it usually is, but instead it was the older brother of the bride…a former intern of Patrick’s. He’d grown up in our church and Patrick reached out to him as a young teen. Patrick believed in him when many others doubted. Through the years, their friendship had grown; countless hours spent together. Even when Patrick was very sick, this young pastor came over to our home and sought his advice.

So I was overwhelmed thinking of how this young man had grown; how much Patrick loved him and how proud he would be. I almost burst out loud into tears, but since I was on the 3rd row, I took quick short breaths and kept it together. Later during the reception I was able to share my thoughts with both the young man and his mom. And I did lose it (quietly) when the bride’s mother told me how Patrick’s life had influenced everything that happened that day. As the evening progressed, I ended up having a great time. A couple girlfriends even convinced me to get on the dance floor for a few fun songs. Parker and I were among the last ones to leave. On the way home I was filled with peace and gratefulness.

Today is June 17th and I have been dreading this day unlike any other so far….because today is our 25th wedding anniversary. I say “is” because it will always be my anniversary. I just don’t get to celebrate it with my husband. He is in Heaven celebrating Jesus’ presence. I don’t know if he is aware of the date and I doubt he is thinking of our wedding. But since I’m still stuck here on earth, it’s all I’m thinking about.  Just five short years ago on our 20th, we were in Mexico with our best college friends and we all agreed we would do it again on our 25th. No one dreamed that one of us would be dead.

I decided in advance to take today off work. I just want to be alone to remember; to journal; to pray; to cry. Grief takes time and has to be faced. Earthly marriage is a representation of what Christ has with his Bride, the church—with us. It’s what He came to earth to live and die for…so we could be His bride. I know my love for Patrick is nothing compared to God’s love for me. That thought is staggering. My finite mind cannot comprehend. What a gift from God the message of the gospel is.   What a treasure my marriage was.

You see, I know what Patrick and I had was special, if not rare. Not everyone marries and experiences falling in love more and more with each passing year. Most wives don’t get to participate with their husbands in their jobs, working in a ministry that both are passionate about. What I enjoyed in my marriage to Patrick was something many people never experience. To be completely loved by a faithful, Godly, fun man was a blessing I will never get over.

I am learning to live alone. I am ok with it as I choose to be content with the memories. I have no desire to remarry; my wedding ring is put away simply because it causes too much pain to look at and feel every second.  The hole is gaping, but I know the pain represents how good I had it. My relationship with Patrick is not over…it has simply changed. He will always be a part of my life. And for that I am grateful.

In honor and memory of my husband, I’ve jotted down 25 reasons I loved being his wife:

  1. He let me be myself & he understood me
  2. He challenged me to grow
  3. He made me laugh and even thought I was funny
  4. He loved people and no one stayed a stranger for long
  5. He made life an adventure and fun
  6. He was a leader, but didn’t have to force anyone to follow
  7. He was man’s man
  8. He wasn’t afraid to tell me no or let me know when I was wrong
  9. He forgave quickly; never yelled or flew off the handle
  10. God’s Word led him and he led our family
  11. He treated others with respect
  12. He was always willing to listen to me about any subject
  13. He was humble & teachable
  14. He encouraged my independence & kept me grounded.
  15. He had friends, I had friends and we both had friends together
  16. He loved the church & being a pastor
  17. He loved being a dad and included the kids in everything he could
  18. We enjoyed each other’s company
  19. We loved serving the Lord & worshiping Him together
  20. We loved each other’s families. It was never “your side” and “my side”. We embraced both as our own
  21. Communication was key to our marriage & we communicated a lot
  22. He was wise with our finances
  23. We were independent, yet dependent on each other
  24. We cared about what the other one cared about
  25. We were still madly in love

those-who-plant-in-tears-thumb

I have never considered myself a crier. In fact, in early adulthood, I was proud of the fact that I seldom cried. After having children, I would occasionally get teary eyed at stories of families with kids growing up or at the thought of losing a child.

That has all changed….drastically. My tear ducts have been flowing non-stop for the past 16 months. And prior to Patrick’s death, for the 12 months that I took care of him and watched him wither away, I was already crying buckets any chance I had to hide in a corner and let them flow. Seriously….it’s a lot of tears.

The Bible actually talks about tears. After all, God created them. I find comfort in Psalm 56:8, in the promise that God knows how much I’ve cried and has my tears in a bucket. That’s up there as amazing as knowing the number of hairs on my head! (Matthew 10:30)

David says in Psalm 6:6 that he is “weary with moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears and I drench my couch with my weeping.” I can relate completely.  Tears are supposed to be cleansing.  Some people can hold them in.  Not me.  Not anymore.  They are always just below the surface and spring forth at random times.

But the verse that has surprised me the most is Psalm126:5 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.” In all my years of studying the Word, hearing messages and reading through the Bible, I never remembered hearing this one. So when my pastor and his wife first brought it to my attention several weeks ago as I sat weeping in their living room, I was riveted. I went home and looked it up and read it in every version and poured through commentaries. This gem of a verse released me from my self-imposed feelings of failure that I should be “doing better” than I am. Gone was the guilt that “I must be doing something wrong” because I am still struggling so much. It is comforting to know that each step I take, even with the tears flowing, is the right thing to do. It’s ok to cry; It’s just not ok to quit. I don’t know when the “reaping with joy” part will come.   That’s not even the motivation for me right now. I just want to be faithful and I only seek to honor the Lord, even in my pain…No matter how long this valley is. I needed to hear that it’s ok to be sad while I’m obeying.

Losing a spouse is unexplainable unless/until you experience it. My earthly best friend is gone and he will never be replaced. And the ache of loneliness is constant. There is no one person to share every detail of life with. The good, the bad, the silly, the pointless, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens. Yes, friends help, but they aren’t the one you are used to going to sleep with every night and waking up next to every morning. There is no one companion who shares your struggles, knows your dreams, encourages you and stabilizes you. No other set of ears and eyes to help you in your perspective. No one person to help you think through things from the minute to the major. And after almost 25 years of having that one person, the adjustment is rough.

I learned early on in my grief that constant isolation is not a good choice, although it’s the natural default when in pain. But it only leads to despair. So I have pressed on….working full-time, involved in an adult small group, serving as a youth leader, attending counseling class on Wednesday nights and going through training sessions to start Grief Share at our church this fall. Friday nights are the worst for me if I don’t have something planned, so I force myself to do something with someone else. All of these things are good and they are helpful….but I still know I am without my life’s partner. It’s still lonely; I still return each night to the deafening silence of my large empty house.

Slowly, I think I am learning to accept the silence. The alone feeling is more normal now. I don’t like it, but it has caused me to be so aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. More than ever before, I whisper prayers to my Heavenly Father. Prayers of confession, for in my grief, I am still a sinner; prayers of desperation for his grace to endure; prayers focusing on his promises and truth; prayers of intercession for others also struggling. His Word soothes my pain. The examples of faithful believers through the ages encourage my heart. Knowing that He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4) and there will be no more weeping, gives me true hope.

Easter weekend was a real blessing, as it was the first time since Christmas that the kids and I were together. Family from out of town joined us for a few days and church families for dinner on Sunday all made for a special weekend. Both kids are doing well. Paige is finishing her second year at Cornerstone University and will be taking an overseas class to Kosovo for a few weeks in May. Then she will finish her summer doing an internship with Life Builders in Detroit. Parker had an amazing freshmen year at Cedarville University and has chosen to be a camp counselor at Lake Ann Camp in northern Michigan this summer. They are experiencing life the way Patrick and I dreamed for both of them. I am truly grateful.

And as I worshipped with my church family during the Good Friday and Easter morning service, I felt freer than I had in a long time. Freer to cry openly thinking of the suffering Christ endured on my behalf. Freer because I know I have experienced a little of the “fellowship of his sufferings” that Paul talks about in Philippians 3:10. Freer to worship openly because Christ is all that matters. Freer because my suffering really is bringing me closer in every way to my Lord and Savior. The most freedom comes from knowing that it’s because of Christ’s resurrection that I have hope and a reason to live.

Today is 16 months since Patrick entered Heaven. He is living it up with Jesus and many others who have gone on before. I know He is fully engaged enjoying each moment just as he always was here. I can picture him talking, laughing and eating….all the things that he couldn’t do as the awful disease took over and destroyed his body. And since it’s spring, I can imagine that he’s playing golf on some beautiful course, inviting everyone he knows to join him for a “quick 9 holes.”

This morning I am running for the second time, a half marathon. The first one was last October when Paige, Heather and I ran in Detroit in memory of Patrick. During that one I ran with thoughts of how Patrick and I had planned to train and run one together, before his diagnosis of ALS changed everything.

For this one I have trained alone. Me and God, along with my phone playing messages from various preachers and lots of Christian music. (Yes, I run listening to sermons. They are often times easier on my emotions than music.) Many miles clocked on the treadmill and outdoors. Lots of time to think; Lots of time to meditate on truth.

Today I will still run with thoughts of Patrick in my heart, as he is a part of me that will never go away.

However, I am also choosing to run thinking of my Savior. I will be thinking of….

how He suffered for me…

how He loves me…

how He never leaves me…

how He is my ultimate companion…

how amazingly He provides for me…

how He continually protects me…

And how He has a plan for me….

He knows my tears,

And He cares.

 

Philippians 3:14

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

For more on tears and Psalm 126:5, read this powerful devotional by John Piper

 

Running Hard after Christ

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

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Here it is the 26th again….how long will I be counting the months?  I counted the weeks until it was 30something. And every Wednesday as the clock neared 10 pm, I re-lived those final moments of watching Patrick’s final breaths until he was gone.

Now 14 months later, gone means so much more.  Gone means forever.  It’s more real with its meaning louder than ever.  It screams at me when I enter the empty house, when I run the dishwasher now only once a week, have one load of laundry, carry out one bag of trash and crawl into my side of the bed with the other side still made.  It screams at me when I don’t have to ask anyone what I should do, where I should go or what I should eat.  Or when I want to share some silly detail about my day or some random idea I have. My life’s partner is gone and left behind is a huge void.

There are a thousand and one ways that I miss him:  his smile, his touch, his leadership, his friendship, his counsel, his voice, his understanding, his encouragement, his perspective, his laughter, his wisdom, his love and overall just the balance of being the other half that he was for me.  He is never far from my thoughts.  It’s still so hard to accept that what we had is over.  I am not the same person…how can I be?  Death is not natural and it changes us.

Isaiah 53 is a chapter I have been focusing on lately.  Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  He was crushed with sorrow.  I now have an understanding of what crushed means.  Even the word “crushed” sounds heavy.  It’s such a weight that it feels physical.  It’s overwhelming.  Sometimes like I can’t breathe.  Other times like a weight on my shoulders; and yet other times a fog like I can’t see through.

But Jesus was crushed for my sin, for Patrick’s sin, for everyone’s sin.  Because of this when I look at his stripes where He was beaten and crucified for me, I know that He rescued me from eternal death, which was my worst problem.  And likewise, He will rescue me and heal me from my grief and pain. It may not be complete on earth, but someday in Heaven for sure.

Recently at a surprise birthday party for a close friend, as I looked around the room at the dozens of smiling faces, random thoughts zoomed through my head….

  • how everyone else there were couples…they still had their spouses;
  • how much fun Patrick would have had and how he would have probably been involved with the roast or some other aspect of the party;
  • how life moves on with deaths and birthdays daily;
  • remembering Patrick’s own surprise 40th when we would have never imagined he wouldn’t make it to his 50th birthday;
  • and finally how blessed I am to count these people as friends.  They continue to walk next to me in my valley and I can rejoice with them in their celebrations.

Those thoughts are normal (I think) but it’s a choice for me where my thoughts land and on what I will focus.  So I left the party that night focused on thankfulness.

The mailbox rarely brings cards anymore and that’s ok.  But one came last week that stopped me in my tracks.  It actually wasn’t even a card.  As I opened the non-descript white envelope, I expected that it was some generic insurance offer.  I was shocked to immediately see a generous amount of money folded in the middle of a one page typed anonymous letter.  Such unexpected kindness reminds me once again that Jehovah-Jireh is my provider.

But what sent me immediately to the floor were these words,

“Patrick was so influential in the life of our family by continually encouraging us to run hard after Christ.  We continue to be encouraged and inspired by your desire to run hard after Christ even in the midst of such heartache.”

There is no higher of a compliment that anyone could ever give me!  Patrick had a lot of sayings, but anyone that ever listened to him for very long knew that his main mantra was to tell everyone “run hard after Christ.”  He said it in prayers; He preached it at weddings; He wrote it in the Bibles given to graduates every year; He counseled it; He believed it; He lived it.  Patrick always said he was a simple guy with a simple message.  But that simple message says it all.

So now, more than a year after he’s gone to have someone tell me that they can still see in my life that I am running hard after Christ….well, I needed to hear that.  On my kitchen floor, I sobbed, thanking the Lord.  It was a sign of God’s goodness affirming my weak faith.  Because often I feel like all I’m doing is showing up; All I’m doing is barely surviving; All I’m doing is the next thing.  But that’s enough, because Christ has already done the rest.

Because of Jesus…

Even in my sadness, I have peace.  He understands.  He sees.  He knows.

Even in my pain, I have confidence.  He is with me.  I can trust Him.  He has a plan.

Even in my grief, I am thankful.  I am blessed beyond anything I deserve.

Therefore, I will continue to run hard after Christ….one tiny step at a time.

Psalm 126:5 “Those who sow seeds with tears will reap with songs of joy.”

The Deep End

Posted: December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

Hands-Drowning-Sea

I am not a strong swimmer.  In fact, at best I’m a weak swimmer, in spite of my parents’ best efforts to make sure I learned the how-to’s.  Every summer I was entered into the next level of lessons and every summer I barely passed the test at the end.  I never got the breathing technique right.  Terrified, I would stand at the end of the diving board before I quickly plugged my nose and jumped in feet first.  As a teen attending camp, I dreaded the “swim test” to be allowed out onto the dock where the cool kids hung out and jumped off.

Not much has changed…now as an adult, if it’s really hot, I may do a lap of a backstroke or a short underwater swim…from one safe side to the other.  Basically, all I can do is tread water for about 60 seconds and hold my breath for 20. And I still can’t dive.

Don’t get me wrong – I love water.   Looking at it, sitting next to it, dangling my feet or lying on a raft.   Just don’t ask me to put my head under.  I enjoy calm waters, but I would never jump off a boat without a life jacket.

For the past two years, I have been in the deep end.  And this isn’t a pool with the edge nearby or a rope in view.  This is the middle of the ocean with no boat in sight and no visible horizon.

In December 2011, I received the news that my husband had ALS.  In December 2012, I watched him take his last earthly breath.  Now it’s December 2013, and I have lived an entire year with the pain of grief and loss.

I have been rocked to the core.  I have hit the bottom.  Both years have been horrendous and I would never want to re-live either of them.  I have no idea how I made it through one day of this, let alone two years.

Before 2011, I had experienced trials.  Life was not always easy.  God conformed me into His image through many lessons. There were losses through a miscarriage, death of grandparents and my much-loved in-laws. And we experienced disappointment through rejection and betrayal.  Living life in the ministry, I’ve walked with countless others through their own sufferings: death, divorce, bondage to sin, along with the natural consequences of living in a sin cursed world.

Like standing on the beach and looking out at the ocean, I knew there was suffering.  I had tiptoed into it and experienced it to a small degree.  But this is different.  This is an over-whelming, life altering, in your face, I-can-not-survive-this type of pain.  Most can sympathize; they can’t imagine and kindly admit that.  A few can empathize.  They have walked this road before and I see in their eyes that they can relate.

I have been dropped into the ocean and it is a very lonely place to be.  Many rafts have held me afloat:  A loving family, a supportive church, Godly friends, the Bible, GriefShare, and counseling.  For each of these, I am truly grateful.  But this is still a path I am on alone. Each grief is individual—no one really understands.

That is, no one but Jesus.  He alone can relate.  He alone carries me.  I look at the cross.  I consider His life, His suffering, His rejection, His sorrow and anguish.  I consider how He resisted temptation to the point of sweating blood (Hebrews 12:4); how He shed His blood for me, a sinner, who could never earn salvation on my own (I Corinthians 15:3-4). By His stripes I will be healed (Isaiah 53:4).

I have stopped asking, “Why?”  I refuse to spiritualize the matter and say that I know why God took Patrick; or that I can see “the good” that has come from it.  Humanly, I will never get it.  I know many people have benefited from his story and from watching him faithfully trust God until the end.  I enjoy hearing about how God has used this in people’s lives.  It does bring some comfort to hear people talk about Patrick. (Please don’t stop telling me what Patrick meant to you!) But truth be told, I wish God had chosen some other way to minister to those needs, because I would rather have my husband still by my side.

Selfishly, I would have never chosen for my family to be the example of this.  We are all changed.  It has left a hole that will never be filled.  We have struggled to figure out how to be a family of three when our leader is gone.  We each have our individual pain–and then there is the pain of watching the other ones suffer and not being able to fix it.

It feels like drowning.  In my darkest moments, I have wanted to give up.  It seems easier to just swallow the water and let myself sink.  “The enemy crushes me.  He makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead, so that my spirit grows faint within me” (Psalm 143:3). I can relate to this psalm of David.  Crying, sobbing, wailing, screaming…sounds come out of me that I never knew existed.   The tears spill daily and the stronger episodes interrupt me at least once a week.  Thrashing about in the deep end is exhausting.

I now ask, “How?”  One of the things I have not doubted is God’s sovereignty.  I know that our days are numbered before one of them even happens (Psalm 139:16). So if this was God’s will and timing for Patrick (and it was), then it’s also His will for me and for my kids.  As long as I am still on this earth, He has a purpose for me (Philippians 1:6). Our family’s story is only one tiny part of the Kingdom purposes God is carrying out.  I am on the path that He has put me on.  He is carrying me.  Earth has nothing I desire; nothing here can satisfy me.  The only peace and fulfillment I long for and will ever find hope in is through my relationship with Jesus Christ.

So that’s what gets me out of bed.  The Gospel of Jesus. The first step of the day is always the hardest.  I fight the temptation to hide under the covers.  But fight I must.  Cry, pray and push; cry, pray and push.  Repeat as often as needed.  Let the emotions come as they will; face them and embrace them. When the wave passes, take another step. Sometimes when I lack the words to pray, and the tears are blinding my ability to read, I simply meditate on four words that describe what Jesus is to me:

He is my Creator;

He is my Savior.

He is my Sustainer;

And He is my Comforter.

He has already rescued me from my greatest need (Romans 5:8), and He continues to keep my head above water.  He created the vast ocean and He put me in it, but He has never left me alone (Joshua 1:9).

Because of this, I have peace and I have hope.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;  we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….Therefore we do not lose heart….For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (II Corinthians 4:7-9, 16 & 17)

 

9 Months a Widow

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

ourhandsfinalBefore, during and after….mentally that’s how I divide my life.

Before the diagnosis of ALS…
During the sickness…
After he’s gone…

Two years ago my life was perfect…at least as far as I was concerned.  Married to my best friend, enjoying our two teenagers, serving in life and ministry.  We were looking forward to the next phase of life, anticipating a new position for Patrick and the kids heading off to Christian colleges.  My new photography business was blooming. Our home was full of love and laughter and we were all happiest when extra guests joined us.

Then came the strange symptoms, doctor visits and tests.  With the results that no one is ever prepared to hear…

A disease with no cure; A certain death sentence.
Immediately our world turned upside down;  our future dreams shattered

Within 24 hours of the diagnosis, two thoughts kept crossing my mind

  • my life as I know it is over
  • my husband will be dead, my children gone and I will be alone

I was right on both accounts.  I just didn’t know how quickly it would all go down.

During his sickness, we were in survival mode.  We dealt with each new decline, while trying to maintain any sense of normalcy and enjoy our marked time together.  Patrick led by example.  He refused to let us stop our lives; he didn’t complain; his smile never waned. He trusted God completely.

Looking back, I realize that I stayed strong because I had to.  We were still a team.  Patrick needed me.  I became his hands, feet and mouth.  I helped him go wherever he wanted to go.  I protected him when I knew it was too much.  I became his advocate for everything.

Near the end, I told him I would be ok.  I thanked him for being an amazing husband and wonderful father.  I told him he had run the race well.  Although he couldn’t respond verbally,  I knew by his eyes that he loved me. He didn’t want to die, but neither did he want to stay on earth in a paralyzed body. So in the final week I asked God to release him from his pain and take him to his heavenly home.

No words can describe watching your soul-mate die.  Heart wrenching is an understatement.

Nine months have already passed.  I don’t know how.  The minutes drag, but it still feels like yesterday.

I knew there were no guarantees of an easy life on earth and that I was not exempt from suffering, so I thought I could handle this. I was wrong.

I thought since I knew the scriptures and believed in God’s sovereignty, I would be ok.  It would be just mind over matter.   I was naive.

I thought God’s grace meant the pain would be minimal.  I had no idea.

Grief hit me like a freight train.  I was unprepared. The intensity of my emotions is visceral and beyond description.  The pain of separation is palpable.

I wish I could say something different to the “how are you” question.  I usually just give a weak smile and say “ok.”  I’ve never been a good liar.

The truth is I am still struggling.  Day by day, hour by hour, sometimes even minute by minute.  I cry every day…it’s just a matter of how hard and how long.  No one has been more surprised by any of this than me.  I’ve been shocked by my neediness and ashamed of my weakness.  Basically, I’ve never been more disappointed in myself.

But God…
He knew all along.  He’s not surprised by my responses.
He meets me right where I am & accepts me.
He assures me through His promises.
I can’t get enough of His word.
Each step I take is a step of faith.

Initially I looked for answers of how to get through this grief process.  I wanted steps that I could check off.  I wanted to pass with a high grade. But there is no magic formula or short cut.  No anesthesia to numb the pain.  The only answer is God himself.

There is no timetable…it has already taken longer than I would have chosen.  Although each person’s grief is unique, I’ve now learned that two to four years for the deepest part of the valley is considered normal.  I’m not in control of any of it.  It’s like a vicious roller coaster I can’t get off.

But I’m right where God has me.

The battle is fierce…to fight my flesh; to fight the enemy’s lies; to fight off despair.  God’s Word is the solution and God’s people the support.

Three young widows, previously just acquaintances, have befriended me and taken me under their wings.  One local and two out-of-state, each further along in their journeys, they have kindly opened up their hearts and shared their stories of pain. They assure me that I am not crazy and remind me of God’s goodness.

And I know God is good.  He is faithful.  I have much to be thankful for. Both Paige and Parker are doing amazingly well at their respective colleges.  They are both where they should be, doing what Patrick and I had always hoped for them.

So I continue to walk by faith and not by sight.  I function to the best of my ability for each day.  I smile and laugh when I can.  And I’m not ashamed when the tears come.

I will never be the same.  My life as I knew it is over.  But God has a plan.  He has a purpose for me and I will be healed.  For now the wound is fresh and the pain raw.  Someday the wounds will cover with scars, but I will be transformed.

To this end, I pray and I wait.

“I would have despaired unless I believed that  I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord.  Be strong and let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

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Twenty-four years ago today, I said “I do” to my best friend. The vows we read were traditional so much so that a few of Patrick’s aunts were uncomfortable with the “submit” part and told me later I didn’t need to do that! LOL! Like every young bride, I truly meant every word I spoke even though I couldn’t have possibly understood what it would be like to really live them out. It’s like reading about having a baby…you don’t fully understand until you are in the delivery room.

At the end of the vows we looked each other in the eye and said “til death do us part.” Those are probably the words I thought the least about. Who thinks about death when they are 23? Now here I am a widow in my 40’s. Eighteen months ago, when we received the diagnosis of ALS, I started thinking a lot about dying and now six months since Patrick’s death, I am still wrapping my brain around it. Like reading about it before, it didn’t really mean much until now when I am actually living it. It’s a million times worse than anyone can imagine. Each step is painful and the hole is huge. I have read a lot of books on grief and the best illustration I can find is that losing a spouse is like losing a limb. It’s complete amputation….without anesthesia. And even when everyone else has moved on and thinks the amputee is doing ok because they are functioning, that person is keenly aware that their former life is over and nothing will ever be the same. Some days the fog is thicker than others, but everything requires effort.

Without God, I don’t know how people survive this…It is only with His Word and His Spirit that I am daily getting out of bed and doing the next thing. I am not strong – quite the opposite; I’m not hanging on by a thread…God is carrying me. Many passages of Scriptures get me through each day. I’m so thankful for years of memorizing because sometimes I can’t even open my BIble, I just quote verses in my head all day long. Thinking of Christ on the cross and His suffering for me is comforting…along with the fact that He is suffering with me now and holds all my tears in a bottle. Psalm 143 is my current favorite and I feel like David wrote it for me – I am breathing it in and out all day long. My head believes the truth, but my heart lags behind…It’s a battle to focus on the eternal perspective when the pain is overwhelming.

But looking back on my wedding day and knowing now what the journey brought us…would I say “I do” again? Without a moment’s hesitation….DEFINITELY! Our marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was solid and we had many more good times than bad. Patrick was my best friend and we were partners in everything. Life with him was an adventure filled with joy. God allowed us many, many times of blessing….the privilege of serving the Lord next to him was so fulfilling. Bringing our two children, Paige  and Parker, into the world and sharing the joys and challenges of parenting, is a forever blessing. After so many years of marriage, you become a lot like each other and there are many qualities of Patrick’s that changed me for the better. I could go on and on. It was my privilege to be his wife and my honor to care for him through the ugliness of one of the most debilitating diseases there is. And although I never could have imagined such a thing, I am thankful I was by his side and able to hold His hand and watch him take his last breath, knowing that God was welcoming Him into Heaven. And now he is in a perfect place, pain free and he’s talking, eating, singing, laughing and running in the presence of His Savior.

Yes, I am still struggling and some days I selfishly want him back with me. Honestly, I do not look forward to the future without him. I still have a long road of grief and mourning to go through. But I know I am right where God wants me to be. Faith and suffering do go hand in hand; sadness and belief are not opposites.

“For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; In your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.” (Psalm 143:11–read the entire chapter when you have time)