Peace and Pain

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Peace is an abstract feeling and hard to describe, but you dephilippians_4_7_by_kc_lynne-d517uhtfinitely know if you have it or not. If you Google the word peace, you find it defined as “freedom from disturbance” or the “cessation of war or violence.” Some of the synonyms are tranquility, calm and restfulness.

If you ask random people to define the same word, most would say that it’s when everything is going well and there are no current issues that are clouding their minds. The younger a person’s age, the more like they are to associate peace with things going their way. A more mature person understands that peace can be shattered at anytime; therefore, they take moments of peace as they come, often in the simple things of life.

It’s human nature to desire peace. Lack of peace is what drives many to participate in unhealthy behaviors. There are myriads of ways people attempt to drown out their lack of peace. Most spend their lives trying to fill the emptiness and escape the uncomfortable feeling inside. Others never slow down long enough to determine if they even know what true peace is.

My definition of peace had always been related to not worrying. No matter what was happening, if I didn’t have something hanging over my head on my to-do list or I didn’t have that pit in my stomach regarding something that was happening, I felt peace.

Sometimes lack of peace is related to something I can control because of a sin issue. Through my Christian growth, I’ve learned to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit pricking my conscience. I can’t stand that feeling of conviction, but have grown to be thankful for it. It’s God’s protection and I have discovered it’s best to repent and submit quickly. His way is always better for me anyway.

Even when it’s not sin related, we know what it’s like when we have something heavy on our minds. It can keep us up at night or cause us to be distracted all day long. I’ve never met a mom who doesn’t have the tendency to worry about her kids, starting with teething and diaper rash all the way to who they will marry and whether it’s the right person at the right time. My understanding is that the worries about kids don’t end even when they are married. In fact, I know my parents still worry about me.

Worry itself boils down to a lack of trust. Every relationship is only as strong as its trust factor. It is the desire to be my own god and control (or think I can control) my life’s circumstances. It takes my eyes off of the Creator. The only one who really is in control.

When I struggle with worry, I know how to apply God’s Word, control my thoughts and apply His promises. Early in my adult life, I did a comprehensive Bible study on the subject and pretty much considered myself an expert. I’ve taught dozens of girls through the years all the worry verses and how to put them into practice. It’s a spiritual muscle I’ve been developing for a long time.

Three years ago when I was kept awake at night trying to wrap my brain around the fact that Patrick had a terminal disease, deep in my heart I knew this would be the ultimate test. Could I really apply those principles? Would I?

While it has been the most difficult and darkest season of my life, my weak spiritual muscles have strengthened immensely. The things/issues that I would have been anxious about in the past seem minuscule now. I’m not fearful of the future nor the unknown. While I still care about my children, I completely trust they are in God’s hands. He will allow what He knows is best for their lives.

The principles I learned to put into practice with the smaller problems of life really did translate over to the dramatic life and death struggle that came my way. This has not been an easy process and God knows the ugliness of my heart. I still have a long way to go. In fact, I embrace that this is an area I can never get lazy in. Progressive sanctification is just that….progressive. Never stagnant.

This has been the fiercest battle of my life. I’ve wrestled with God. It hasn’t been pretty. I’ve sprawled prostrate before God begging Him to change His plan; I’ve curled in the fetal position on the floor of my closet sobbing that I can’t make it; I’ve crawled into the back of my van in an empty parking lot and screamed at God. I’ve wanted to give in and say it doesn’t work; It’s not worth it and I quit.

But His Word does work. Christ is worth it. And He won’t let me quit.

My new definition of peace entails more than just the absence of worry; Yes that’s still a vital part. My trust with my God has deepened to a whole new level. I can’t be simultaneously filled with anxious thoughts and have my focus on God. I continually make a choice on where to direct my thoughts.

But there is another part of the equation that is new and different for me. Before in my peace, I didn’t have any pain. I would associate pain with that bad feeling that you are not supposed to have. Surely peace also meant “no pain,” because in my experience, pain meant something was wrong. Just get to the root, fix the problem and the pain will subside.

I now know differently. Some pain can’t be fixed. Some pain will never go away. It’s not because of sin—it’s not lack of trust. It enters your life and changes you.

Twenty-three months post the death of my husband and the path of grief is still the one I’m traveling.

But I can honestly say I am at peace. In my innermost being, I am not consumed with fear or worry. My God is carrying me through this valley. He has never left me. He never will.

He’s the same God who guided Joseph, Esther, David, Ruth, Daniel and Paul, to name just a few of the real people we read about in the Bible. Each of them had circumstances that didn’t make sense. They had pain, sorrow and unfair treatment. Yet they cried out to God. They walked with Him, even when they didn’t understand. They didn’t know their future, but they trusted in their God who did.

Peace and pain can co-exist. One does not negate the other. Pain does not mean lack of trust. Peace is not just lack of pain. They are not mutually exclusive.

Jesus is the ultimate example. Even on the cross, in his deepest turmoil and incomprehensible suffering, He was at peace knowing He was obeying His father’s will. He was doing that for me and for you. By His stripes we are healed.

My memories over the next several weeks will be painful ones as I remember the weeks leading up to Patrick’s death. His life and death are constantly on my mind.

But even in my pain, I do have peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace that only comes from God.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy's girl blog

 This month on the 26th, we are choosing celebration because it is Paige Marie’s 21st birthday. While I am Paige’s only living parent, she is still the fruit of the womb that God gave to my husband and me. Nothing will ever change that. Patrick will always be a vital part of the equation. He invested into Paige’s life whole-heartedly from the day she was born until the day he died. Now through his legacy, Paige continues on becoming the woman God wants her to be.

Paige came into the world three weeks early and was a tiny little thing at 5 lbs. 10 oz. In fact, all the nurses wanted to come in and see her since they were so accustomed to delivering larger babies. But don’t let her small size fool you, she was healthy as an ox and 24 hours later, we were shoved out the hospital doors and on our way home.

From the get go, there wasn’t a job that Patrick refused to do. He was a hands-on dad in every area. In fact, he hated it when other men said they had to “babysit” their kids. His thinking was that it’s not babysitting, it’s parenting!

Patrick didn’t believe in separate rules or expectations for girls and boys. He pretty much expected the same thing from both kids. Therefore, there was nothing he didn’t teach Paige to do simply because she was a girl. From fishing, soccer and golf to mowing the lawn and shoveling snow; to earning a dollar and finding a deal; from how to speak up, look others in the eye and shake a hand; to Notre Dame and the Tigers; to cooking and eating…Patrick taught it and Paige learned it.

Looking back, I would say Paige was a “daddy’s girl.” But definitely not in the typical way…She was no coddled princess who could get her daddy to let her do anything. No way, José! Patrick certainly didn’t want a spoiled prima donna. He wanted a hard working, common sense, fun loving, Jesus-following girl. He was firm with Paige and she hated to disappoint him; just that “look” from Daddy and she responded accordingly.

In our first home in Kentucky, Patrick would wake 3-year old Paige up at midnight and carry her onto the back deck to watch the raccoons emerge out of the woods. Fifteen years later, after he was diagnosed with ALS, Patrick planned a trip to California to visit family and he insisted on taking Paige with him. From toddler to teenager, he wanted his daughter with him every chance he had.

Patrick was diagnosed with his fatal disease when Paige was 18, in the middle of her senior year. He insisted life continue as normal. Paige went on college visits and participated in all the end-of-the-year events. At her graduation, Patrick was still standing tall, but had slowed down in many ways. In her cap and gown, we snapped a family photo that to this day is the background image on my phone.

All summer, we kept hoping for the effects of ALS to slow down; we were desperate for more time. As it drew closer for Paige to leave for college, we had a difficult discussion. Should she start college or postpone it? She knew the facts…Patrick was dying; we didn’t know if he even had a year left, but we doubted it.

Her college was a couple hours away; Many people offered to help get her back quickly if needed. I promised honest communication. Patrick wanted her to go and told her so, but we didn’t want her to feel pushed away.

The decision was hers and she bravely began her college journey under the worst possible circumstances.

But God in His goodness saw that she was right where she needed to be. In a small Christian environment where many new friends, leaders and professors ministered to her. When she returned the following semester after her daddy died, her support group had been established. They were ready and understanding. It would have been more difficult had she waited to start.

Late in the fall, after a short weekend visit, Paige left us a note on our bathroom counter. After he read it, Patrick sobbed. I’d never seen anything like it. Watching someone with ALS cry isn’t easy; I wanted to stop it. He finally was able to communicate to me how despondent he felt because he wasn’t going to be here on earth to watch Paige grow into an adult. He told me he was far more heart broken for us than for himself. His fatherly heart was torn in two; It was heart wrenching.

After her first semester ended, Paige was able to spend Patrick’s last few weeks on earth by his side, helping to take care of him. Nothing fazed her and she was a trooper treating him with respect, even while watching her once strong daddy now lay paralyzed and helpless. She acted normal and made him laugh. Just sitting next to him in silence, the love between them was palpable.

Often as Patrick was declining, I begged God that He would allow both of the kids and me to be present whenever God decided to take him to Heaven. I wanted it to be our final time as a family of four. We needed to be together.

And in God’s sovereign plan, he designed Patrick’s home going to be over the holidays. I know many people felt that the timing was awful, but truthfully, it was going to be awful no matter when it happened.

I firmly believe the timing was an answer to my prayer. Even though Patrick went into a coma on Christmas Eve, God in his graciousness allowed the three of us to be by his side when he breathed his last breath the day after Christmas.

 I will never forget Paige’s wailing sobs as she left his side for the last time. There was no consoling this girl. Nothing could diminish this level of pain.

At his service, she insisted on sharing a testimony about her dad. She wrote it, gave it to me to read, and it was perfect. No changes were made and she stood bravely in front of over 1,000 people and talked about her hero. Her voice didn’t crack and she didn’t break down. I was in awe.

Father and daughter share numerous similarities. Both love to eat and laugh. They like the “shortened” versions of a story and things that aren’t overly complicated. They’ve never met a stranger and have a lot of common sense. They don’t need the newest gadget or name brand clothes. They don’t try particularly hard to impress others but are friendly to all and “what you see is what you get.”

A few months after Patrick died, I made some comment to Paige about how I wished I had stayed by his side more while he was sick. My thinking was that if I would have known how short his time was, I wouldn’t have ever left his side. Paige looked at me and told me clearly and calmly, “Mom, Dad isn’t in Heaven wishing that you would have done something differently while he was sick. You did your best and he’s now healthy and with Jesus.” It was just like something Patrick would have said to me and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I never said it again.

Losing her dad forever changed Paige’s life. But she knows what a special daddy she had and how blessed she is.  Since his death, Paige has bravely continued on with her college education. She has made wise, practical decisions and continues to seek to honor the Lord with her life. Patrick would be thrilled.

Paige – Today on your 21st birthday, be assured of the following…

  • You are loved deeply by both your parents.
  • Your daddy was so proud of you. He loved every second with you and the two of you definitely had a special bond.
  • He was a man of God and many girls in this world don’t have dads like yours.
  • Dad held your hand and guided you as faithfully as he could until God released him from that job.
  • He is now in Heaven worshiping the Heavenly Father whom he pointed you toward.
  • If God allows him to have snapshots into your life now, I know he is proud of the woman you are becoming.
  • You know many of the things Dad would keep telling you if he were here, but foremost among them would be to “Keep running hard after Christ.” And the next would probably be “Happy Birthday, Pump.”

 Psalms 103:13 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

first dating photo 1987

My mother tells me I was a shy toddler. In fact, they couldn’t force me to go to preschool because I was so terrified. I have vague memories of a giant room with a tiny group of kids in the middle and I was supposed to walk all alone to join them. I wasn’t having it! Then I was held back from Kindergarten because I was still not ready to go.  The next year I had no choice and since my younger brother was also going, it seemed better.  All that ended up making me the oldest one in my grade the rest of the way through, which gave me some sense of confidence.

Somewhere along the line, the timidity disappeared…Because the rest of my school experience was all about talking with my friends, social events, and did I mention talking. In fact, I’m sure my middle school teachers and the librarian, in particular, would have never believed that I had ever been shy. I was banned from the library and sent into the hall more times than I care to admit. At one point, a close girlfriend of mine was told by her parents she couldn’t hang out with me because I was getting into too much trouble for…you guessed it – talking!

When faced with the  decision of what to do after graduation,  I remember my dad telling me that since I had so much fun in high school, I should go to college and continue all those types of activities. That sold me and off I went. He was right. My high school and college memories are so amazing; Thinking back to that time in my life brings a smile to my face.

And of course at college, I met the man of my dreams. At the end of my sophomore year, I made a prophetic statement that I probably had already met the man I would marry, but that neither of us knew it yet. That fall, before classes even began, Patrick asked me on our first date and then continued to ask me out every day after, always calling me (on the floor pay phone) immediately after he had just dropped me off! Three weeks into our dating, he told me he loved me (which I proudly did not say back) and he started telling people he was going to marry me. I took a little longer to decide. After all, I had my list (yes, a real list) of what were “absolutes” and what were “preferences.” I distinctly remember sitting in Pizza Hut and asking him the questions I thought were the toughest. If he could put up with my over-analyzing personality and not make me feel like an idiot, well then he was the guy for me. That was just the beginning of our friendship and his understanding of me. 7 months later we were engaged and the following year, 5 weeks after I graduated, we were married.  The photo above was taken early in our dating.  Long before the days of digital and iPhone cameras, you can imagine how precious this picture is.

Over the 25 years of knowing Patrick, he continued to be the best friend I could ever imagine. As with all marriages, our understanding of each other grew over time; He could predict what I was thinking. I knew how he would react. We could finish each other’s sentences. Many of our thoughts and opinions meshed and were as one. In fact, on all the major topics, we did agree. The more minor areas weren’t important and we just let each other be how we were and it was ok. I loved the fact that he completely understood me. He allowed me to thoroughly explain how I felt about something, truly listening and then would help me clarify what, if anything needed to be done.

Now that he’s gone, I am still always thinking of what he would say or feel or how he would react. I’m working hard to keep certain standards the way he did. Like the grass – he was meticulous about it, probably a little over the top. When both kids were home, the 3 of us could keep up with it pretty well. Now that they’re gone, it’s a lot of work.  It’s a big lawn and to use all the machinery and do it right takes almost 3 hours.  In fact, I just recently had a meltdown over the lawn because I just can’t keep it up as perfectly as he did.  And I desperately want to.

Some of the things that were important to Patrick, I have not followed…like the golf channel. It’s never on now. As for Notre Dame and the Tigers, I might look up the score the next day, but it’s not nearly with the same level of interest as when he was here. I used to try to find out some tidbit of news about one of his teams and tell him before he heard it himself. Boy, did he love it when I did that! I would be so proud of myself and he was excited that I was showing enthusiasm for something he loved.

That’s what I miss the most…his friendship and our companionship. The bond, the love, the sharing of life together. With the major things and the simple things. He is gone and a million times a week I want to share something with him. But I can’t.

It’s lonely. It’s quiet. Too quiet. It’s been 21 months. I am used to the silence, but I am not used to the loneliness. I had such a full life, such a vibrant marriage. A best friend and lover all in one. Words can’t come close to describing what we had and I will never find the right words to convey how I feel now. It’s like the neon light “vacancy” flashing in my mind over and over and over and I can’t get rid of it.

I want to say that I’m ready to close the cover on the volume of my life with Patrick; that I’m ok with it being in the past and now I’m ready for volume 2. But I’m not there yet. I’m in the transition and I still grieve deeply. I am functioning… I work full-time; I help facilitate GriefShare; I log my miles running; My church attendance is regular; I hang out with friends. But I do all that with a sadness in my heart that just can’t be set aside, a heaviness that weighs my soul down.

In my continual laments to the Lord, I have wrestled with the fact that in my head I know the Lord should be enough. That I shouldn’t need anything else. While that is true, God did make us relational creatures. He created marriage a unique relationship. Jesus himself grieved and there is much scripture about sorrow, suffering and loneliness.

When I am tempted to despair and think no one really understands, I have to force myself to focus on the truth of God’s Word; on His promises for me now and for my future; On what I already have in Christ and what I have to look forward to in eternity. This week a passage that I’ve had memorized for years came back to me in a new way.

Isaiah 40:28-31 “Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Other translations say “there is no limit to his understanding.” I cling to that. God created me and He understands me. More than Patrick ever did and more than anyone ever will. In fact, he knows me better than I know myself. I find comfort in that truth.

I’m to a place where about 60% of the time, I can replace my tendency to think negatively with God’s truths in a fairly quick manner and keep on going. The next 30% of the time, it’s more of a struggle. I have to really force myself to apply the Word that I know in my head to my heart. The final 10% of the time is when I’m knocked to my knees both emotionally and physically, feeling completely unable to resist the battle. It’s like quicksand to despair and I’m so tired of fighting, I want to give in and just sink below the surface.

It’s those times that I know I need help. My pride tells me that no one wants to hear from me. That it’s the same ole’ story and if I am sick of it myself, it must be so much worse for my friends. But I have a core group who prays for me and really want to know when the grief fog is thick. So I reach out through a text sharing my desperation and then just let the waves of sobbing come, begging God to help me. Sometimes it’s a few hours and sometimes a few days, but graciously the darkness is lifted and I can start taking a few wobbly steps again.

It’s in these times, that I’m glad God made me a relational person. I couldn’t walk this journey alone. God is the foundation and the reason for my faith. But he also blessed me with many friends who are walking next to me.  Some live nearby and many are miles away.  But it doesn’t matter.  I need them all. They listen, they speak truth to me, they sing, they text, they pray, they email and message me. We eat together, we run together, we worship together, we cry and laugh together. Sometimes we talk about Patrick and sometimes we don’t.

My life with Patrick was a treasure;  My heavenly treasure will be to be with Christ forever.  As long as God still leaves me on this planet, I will seek to follow Him and serve Him with my life.  He can be trusted and I will choose to trust Him regardless of how my feelings vacillate.  He understands and He is worthy of my praise.

Isaiah 43:2 “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord God.

 

 

 

 

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.”