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In just a couple weeks I will be running my sixth half-marathon, and it will be the fourth time that I do the Detroit International Half. For the past three years, race day has been unseasonably cold, with it actually snowing last year. Long before dawn, the excitement is palpable as 20,000 runners make our way through the dark to find our corral and correct pace group. There we wait for what seems like hours, jumping up and down to stay warm. We smile and chat, as the common bond is instant. The countdown on the loudspeaker begins and we hear the siren as the first group starts. Slowly, we inch our way closer, listening as every two minutes the next group starts. Soon we can see the start line and many snap a few last minute photos before tucking away their phones. By now, we are jogging. As we cross that mat, we click our watches and we’re officially off.

The first mile or two I try not to think about what I’m doing. I can’t believe the day has finally arrived. I focus on not starting too fast or too slow. I tell myself this is just a normal run. Deep breaths in and out. Months of training have brought me to this point. For the past 48 hours, I’ve been carb loading and drinking water by the gallon. I am as prepared as I can be.

By mile three, we are running across the Ambassador Bridge as the sun rises. It’s a gorgeous site and the excitement continues. I remind myself to look up and enjoy the scenery. People are jostling just to have a few steps of pavement in front of them without tripping over one another. I try not to get annoyed at a runner who is already walking. If they knew they couldn’t run, they should have started further back, I think. Maybe they had no idea, my nicer self decides to give them a break.

At the end of the bridge, it’s strange to run across the Canadian border where on any other day, you would be in your car and have to stop at the booth. The border patrol stand seriously looking at us to make sure they can see our bibs, otherwise we risk getting pulled out. Next to them, a local band and lots of friendly Canadians greet us with posters and cheers. Miles five through seven are smooth, fun and flat as we run next to the river on the Windsor side overlooking Detroit’s skyline.

Somewhere around mile seven, we enter the tunnel. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A tunnel, except this one is underwater. Two lanes normally full of bumper to bumper traffic. But for these few hours it’s body to body as the herd of runners all head the same direction. It’s also the only mile of the run that we have absolutely no spectators. Some runners shout and scream to hear their echo. Some stop for a quick photo at the midway point next to the two countries’ flags. It is a cool photo op, but the competitor in me won’t allow me to stop. The first time I ran through the tunnel, I was amazed at how long it was and kept wondering when it was going to end. There is a gradual incline near the end of the tunnel. At that point, my quads are burning and I dig in deep to push through because I know the biggest crowd is waiting just outside the tunnel.

Sure enough as we come out of the dark and even before our eyes are re-adjusted to daylight, we can hear people screaming and cheering. Both sides are full and I began to scan the crowd for one or two familiar faces. When I see them, I run close to the side to get a high five. The smile and wave from someone who knows my name gives me a little more wind in my sail.

About a half mile later, that’s when the real struggle begins. Around mile nine my mind starts playing head games, telling me things like…

  • Wow, you have a long ways to go.
  • You won’t be able to keep up this pace.
  • You are already behind last year, so just slow down.
  • No one else cares about your time.
  • Did I do enough squats, lunges, hills?
  • Why do you even care about your time?
  • Why are you doing this to yourself?
  • What’s that pain (leg, knee, hip, ankle)?
  • Most people never even do one of these races.

And on and on and on. So I talk back to myself…

  • You are MORE than half way done.
  • You can trust your training.
  • This is a new race with a new time.
  • You will be so mad at yourself if you slow down/give up.
  • God cares what you are doing and He knows the details.
  • You have breath and strength and ability.
  • That pain isn’t real.
  • Many people wish they could run.

Can you imagine the tape playing in my head over and over? Between the internal arguments, I pray and quote Scripture.

There is a hill somewhere between ten and eleven. It’s tough. That’s where I gave into the negative self-talk last year. I was nauseous and that gave me an excuse. I slowed way down and I as much as I hate to admit it, but I actually walked for like 30 seconds. Okay, maybe it was 60 seconds. Once I did that, I knew it was over.

Mile twelve is a great place for us half marathoners. It’s where the full marathoners keep going straight and we turn the corner and head for the finish line. It’s a great feeling to know you’re almost done. You forget the pain and pick up the pace. Every other time, I’ve been ecstatic when I finish. Last year I was already mad at myself.

It was the first year that my time didn’t improve. Later when I looked at my splits, I realized I hadn’t been doing as poorly as I thought. I had listened to the wrong voice in my head and I was my own worst enemy.

Five years ago, I had never run anything but a few family-fun 5k’s. I never envisioned myself as a serious runner. I remember how excited I was the first time I ran four miles without stopping. Now a four mile run is either a warm-up or a speed workout. Either way, it feels like an easy run day. Clearly, my perspective has changed. Training for a half marathon is work. Hard work. The only way that four miles got easier was by continually running.

Several times in the Bible, our lives on earth are compared to running a race. For me, the correlation is helpful. I understand that this life is not a sprint, but a marathon. I have to put the training in to reap the benefits. Spending time in His Word is paramount. Sharing my struggles honestly with godly friends is my lifeline. Regularly crying out to Jesus is the air I breathe.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t keep going. Like that hill on mile ten, I want to quit. But I need to play the tape of God’s truth to override the lies of my flesh. Letting go of my dreams and embracing God’s plan is still a work in progress. When I’m discouraged, I can choose where I let my thoughts rest. Do I focus on the pain and loss or do I remind myself of God’s goodness? When the daily loneliness threatens to devour me, do I give into self-pity or do I review how far I’ve come with God by my side?

My race is not over until God says it is. Someday I will cross earth’s finish line and when I do, I don’t want to have any regrets.

Hebrews 12: 1 & 2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7; Philippians 3:14

 

 

 

 

 

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As God has now allowed my life story to continue three and a half years longer than my husband’s, I marvel at His faithfulness to me. While I am certainly not living the life I could have imagined even 5 short years ago, I am convinced that I am exactly where God wants me. When I was cruising along with a healthy husband and living the busy life of a mom of two teenagers, I had some basic expectations of what the next stage would be like. As the kids approached college and many changes were right around the corner, I thought I’d be walking through the empty nest phase with my husband by my side. But I was wrong.

Since the diagnosis of ALS threw our lives into a tailspin, nothing has been the same. In fact, the only consistent thing has been the steady stream of changes. I guess we could all say that nothing ever stays the same. Each of us experiences different stages of life and we are usually at the beginning or end of some transition.

There are many contrasts to my former life and my current life. The more substantial two are that instead of working part-time at a nearby school, I now work a full-time corporate job in the city; and instead of living in a house with a husband and two children, I now live in a condo alone. Of course, those trickle down to a thousand other ways life has changed. My main roles used to be “wife” and “mom.” The former of which no longer exists and the latter requires minimal time; both kids basically grown, gone more than home.

It’s pretty drastic; death is like that. It interrupts everything. As does all suffering…It doesn’t have to be death. Most of us are thrown a curve ball at some point and the unexpected becomes the new norm. We need time to process that this shocking event has become a reality. When someone is sharing with me a burden and starts to say, “I know it’s not as bad as yours, but….,” I immediately stop them. It doesn’t have to be like mine to hurt. No need to compare. I haven’t walked in your shoes and you haven’t walked in mine, but we can still bear one another’s burdens. I consider it a privilege to share what God has taught me with another who is suffering. God’s word is completely transferrable to all our different struggles.

Living life alone was not what I ever expected. It’s certainly not what I wanted. It flies in the face of my personality. I’m a people person, a communicator that loved sharing life with my best friend and pouring into my children and ministry.

I loved my life.

Now I don’t.

That’s complete honesty. That doesn’t mean I’m unthankful; far from it, even in the littlest things, I see God’s goodness and overflow with gratefulness. It doesn’t mean I’m miserable; each day, I try to be positive and show God’s love to everyone I meet with a kind greeting and smile. It doesn’t mean I don’t have peace; on the contrary, I lay my head on my pillow each night completely at peace with God in my mind and spirit.

It just means I don’t love my life like I used to. It’s still hard and I’m still adjusting. Some days feel like drudgery, others are acutely painful. Some I manage just fine, while others I simply endure. Life is like that. I don’t think I’m that much different from anyone else.

I know I’m right where God wants me; and that makes it ok for me to not love my life now. Because if He’s ok with where I’m at, then I humbly accept it. “Better is one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10).

This season of life is part of God’s plan and His plan is good. He prepared me in advance for this time and He is preparing me now for the next stage, whatever it may be (Ephesians 2:10). Absolutely nothing is wasted in God’s economy. What a relief. There is always a purpose and a reason for our pain.

I don’t buy into “your best life now” philosophy; instead I choose to believe that my “momentary light affliction is producing for me an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinithians 4:17). God didn’t promise me a trouble free life here; In fact He said the opposite (John 16:33), but He has overcome the world and He has promised to never leave me (Hebrews 13:5).

And just soak in the promises of Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

I knew those promises before, but now I’ve truly lived them. Many hours on my face before God weeping buckets of tears, begging God to carry me and I can honestly say He has carried me. It’s only by His grace that I’ve made it this far.

Recently, as I was trying to encourage a close friend who was having her own struggles, I found myself telling her that as awful as this grief journey has been, I’ve asked the Lord to never let me forget how needy I am. I never want to lose the closeness that I’ve had with God during this time. Absolutely lost, desperate and broken. Completely at the end of myself, knowing I can’t survive without Him.

As painful as it has been, it has also been precious. I don’t yet have words to explain it. Maybe I never will. At rock bottom, Jesus Christ has met me, held me and carried me; and I won’t forget. Ever.

As a result, I have absolutely no doubts that God has my future figured out. He is with me in his journey. In fact, better than that, He planned it and it’s for His kingdom purposes, which I will not fully understand until I’m Heaven-side. Won’t it be so cool to be able to see all God was doing from beginning to end? Each of our own personal stories is just a tiny fragment of the whole. His purposes unfolded will blow us away. I can’t wait!

Whether I can ever say “I love my life” again is irrelevant. It’s not the goal. The goal is to continue to walk closely with my Lord and Savior, faithfully obeying and trusting. The struggles of our daily lives on planet earth bring to the surface the areas where we need to submit and where God wants to mature us; and all the while, the hands of a loving Father help us through the process.

A few months ago I was introduced to this song and I can’t get enough of it. Many mornings on my drive into Detroit, alone with Jesus, I have my praise and worship time. As I sing and pray this song, I force myself to keep one hand on the wheel when I want to raise them both heavenward and I fight back the tears so my mascara won’t run before my day has even begun. This has become my theme song and I encourage you to get alone with God and turn it up loud and listen….

There wasn’t a day that You weren’t by my side

There wasn’t a day that You let me fall…

In all of my life, Your love has been true,

With all of my life, I will worship You.

I will sing of all God’s done and I’ll remember how far He’s carried me

From beginning to the end, He is faithful until the end….

I will remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Forward

Posted: December 26, 2015 in Uncategorized
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My story of loss is now at the three-year mark. Throughout my life no other three-year time period has ever been so long and yet so short. How have I survived three long years without my life’s partner? In the early days, the hours were  excruciating and  I couldn’t wait for sleep to bring relief. At the same time, how can it have only been three short years since I had him by my side? So much has happened that in some ways the time has flown by. Only others who’ve walked the grief journey can truly relate.

I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to feel at this three-year anniversary of Patrick’s death. Overall, I am doing well. Day by day I continue to move forward. For the most part, the load is lighter; the fog has cleared. The waves of intense pain are less often and have a shorter duration. I cry easily, but can smile as the tears flow. I don’t fear the emotion; I let it out and keep going.

When people tell me I’m doing better, I’m not sure how to react. I know such words are spoken out of love and meant for encouragement, so I choose to receive them that way. If someone says they know Patrick would be proud of me, those words touch me deeply. Although I’m not living to please him, it’s a bittersweet thought that he would think I was continuing to make the right choices in following the Lord.

Several significant events happened this year that the Lord gave me the desire and the strength to carry out. Early in the year, I received a promotion at work that better fit my skill set and gave me more flexibility. It requires more leadership and initiative, which in turn, has increased my confidence. I am enjoying the corporate world and am becoming more marketable as I continue to learn and grow.

I also purchased a car for the first time on my own. To some it may not seem like a big deal, but to a girl who always drove whatever vehicle her dad and then her husband bought, it was uncharted territory. I educated myself, narrowed it down to the make, model, year and mileage and began my pursuit. It was an exciting process; I’m happy with my choice and love whipping around metro Detroit in my little Honda CRV.

During the summer, I traveled to Hungary for a mission’s trip teaching English. I worked with a team of teachers and missionaries I had never met before and stayed with a wonderful Hungarian family. I don’t think a smile left my face the entire time. It was such an awesome experience and the highlight of my year.

Then in the fall, I decided to sell my house, downsize and move to a condo. Even though I knew that moving would be necessary at some point, it all came about rather quickly and when God sets things in motion, you just go with it. From Labor Day until last week, putting my house on the market, packing, and moving became all consuming. I spent hours going through every box, shelf, nook and cranny. I organized, sorted, donated and purged, determined not to keep unnecessary stuff. I could not have done it alone. Many friends helped; Paige came home on weekends and tackled whatever list I had for her. We face-timed Parker to ask what he wanted and show him our progress. And then there were my parents, who deserve the biggest shout-out of all. They worked tirelessly alongside me over the weekends and then fulfilled dozens of tasks during the week while I continued to work full-time. They kept me going when I wanted to quit. They knew I didn’t enjoy the process and didn’t make me feel bad when I worked quietly engrossed in my own thoughts or when I let the grumpiness slip out. Somehow they knew when I’d reached my limit and couldn’t make another decision that day.

You see, deciding to move was something I knew with my head was right, but my heart fought it the whole way. There were many emotions that had to be dealt with as I closed the door on the last house where we lived as a family of four. The home Patrick and I fixed up and where we could have stayed forever. We shared this home with hundreds of students and families. 16 years was the longest I’d ever lived at any one address. But I knew it was time and I knew I needed to go through it. It was the wisest thing to do financially. So like any other tasks I need to accomplish, I made my lists and started checking things off, one item at a time until it was done.

Buying a car and the trip to Hungary were endeavors I was nervous, but excited to embark upon. Selling my house was a challenge I needed to face, but didn’t want to. However, I truly believe all this year’s events were gifts of God’s graciousness to keep me busy. Business and activity help keep the loneliness at bay, which is the most prevalent pain from the loss of a spouse. To be doing life by yourself, without a companion, well I don’t know that I will ever get used to that.

Patrick’s memory brings me smiles. I can now honestly say I’m glad he didn’t suffer with that terrible disease any longer. Early on, I wished he had the “slow version” of ALS, but now I’m glad he didn’t. God spared us all on that one. I remember the good times and think of Patrick when he was whole and well. The photo above shows his perspective of life. He was helping our good friends load up their daughter for her first year away at college. He was always cheering everyone on and looking at the positive of every experience. I imagine he is enjoying Heaven and encouraging me to continue pressing on here.

I miss my husband every day; I think of him often. I know what he would say and think and do. I sometimes “talk” to him. I know he’s not there, but I equate it to talking to myself, of which I have no shame that I also do. His absence is a hole that I will always carry. Yet, I do feel like a whole person again. No longer do I think I have a sign on my head that shouts “widow,” I’m just Dena. My personality has returned, even though I’m changed in many ways. My faith is stronger and my God is with me. I don’t have anything to fear and so I don’t.

Patrick’s story ended, but mine did not. His legacy lives on through my life, through Paige and Parker’s lives, and through the hundreds of people who were touched in one way or another by his life.

I don’t know what’s in my future, but I am no longer dreading it. God has proven himself to me over and over again. He will walk with me in 2016 with whatever He brings my way, as I continue to move forward.

 Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Happy 50th

Posted: November 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

Ten years ago, I pulled off a surprise 40th birthday party for Patrick. It was a great night of celebrating his life with lots of friends. I think his favorite part was that I still put him in charge of the grilling; I can vividly picture him standing by the grill, talking and laughing as he worked his magic on the meat. Later that week, his mom and sister made a surprise visit and took us out to a unique all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. It seems like we celebrated for over a week.

Behind the scenes, I threw together a small scrapbook of “Patrick’s Top 40 rules for life.” Inside the front cover, I wrote these words:

“Happy Birthday, Honey! Since 40 is a memorable birthday, but certainly not the end of the road, I wanted to celebrate you by sharing 40 of your life habits that we know and love about you.”

Some of the items in the scrapbook represented his funny quirks:

  • patrick40#8 Running out of milk is a sin
  • #16 Spend more time blowing than mowing
  • #22 Eat French fries with a fork
  • #26 Make your own guacamole
  • #28 The golf channel is the only one you need
  • #31 Always find the shade
  • #34 Don’t trip on my feet, just rub my feet

Others illustrated his practical side:

  • #7 Call your mom once a week
  • #13 Shake hands with a firm grip
  • #14 Never pay full price
  • #17 On time means 5 minutes early
  • #33 Laugh often

Several others demonstrated his character:

  • #12 Trust in God and follow His word
  • #20 Don’t stay angry for more than five minutes
  • #29 Be an involved father
  • #30 Lead by example
  • #32 Stay Faithful to your bride
  • #35 Accountability counts
  • #38 Be loyal to your friends

I’m sure that however you knew Patrick, you can smile and agree as you read one of the above points. You could probably add your own from your memories of him.

Did any of us imagine that Patrick wouldn’t live to see 50? Nope. But God knew. Maybe He had me make a big deal out of his 40th because we wouldn’t have a 50th party. I don’t know.

Patrick looked forward to a long life, yet he always had a feeling he would die young. There were a few occasions when he mentioned that thought to me. Of course I would argue and say “you have no way of knowing” or “don’t say that!” Now I joke that I should have said “then go buy more life insurance.” You’ll have to excuse me if that sounds sick, but I have to find bits of humor where I can in the midst of the tragedy of losing my husband so young.

When Patrick was diagnosed with ALS right after his 46th birthday, he knew he was going to die and it was going to be quick. He thought less than two years; it was barely over one. He did not pray for healing; he prayed for grace to die well. As his muscles deteriorated and he suffered greatly, he would sometimes ask me if I thought he was complaining. I honestly can’t remember a time when he complained or was negative about the course God had set his life on. He would communicate his needs as they arose because he couldn’t help himself, but there were no signs of bitterness or anger.

He wanted us to keep living; he never once asked the kids to not go somewhere or do something to stay with him. In fact, if there was any way to bring him along, we did. Looking back now, I realize how much internal strength it must have taken to not care about his appearance and helplessness, but instead he let the desire to be with his family and partake in a part of our lives override any insecurities of people staring. What a man he was! The only time he sobbed was a few months before his death when he couldn’t keep going out and he knew his kids were going to have to through life without him. He didn’t weep for himself, but for us.

Barely eight weeks after his 47th birthday, God took Patrick home. If he were still on earth, today would be his 50th birthday. Somehow we would have made it a big deal…with family, friends, laughter and food. He probably would have endured the jokes about being old with his standard response of “bite me.”

Instead, I am left alone with just the memories of the love of my life. No doubt it will be a hard day. I will do what I can to keep busy, but the pain is always there. The tears are ever ready to burst out when I give them the chance. The last couple of months, the loneliness has been intense. Like a heavy, damp blanket that I can’t get out from underneath. Sometimes I just want to be free of the grief, yet it’s still a journey through which I am walking.

I know Patrick wouldn’t want me to mope around on his birthday, or on any other day in fact. So I will choose to focus on the good times, shed my tears and keep going. I know that each birthday is a gift from God. Aging is a privilege; there are no guarantees. I am thankful for my health, my family, my job, and for the ability to run. I am so grateful for my church and the freedom to worship God and the many provisions He continues to demonstrate to me daily. While this may sound like a trite list that anyone could spout off, I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart. Without God’s grace and His word, I could not face each day.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

Parent to Parent

Posted: August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Dearest Patrick,

Our son just turned 20 and tomorrow he leaves for a semester in Jerusalem. You would be so proud….No longer a teenager, practically a man, Parker is like you in so many ways. Driven, determined and decisive. Funny, a lover of people and always looking for a good time, he’s got the best of you all wrapped up in his tall, lanky body. He forgives quickly, doesn’t hold grudges, and is eternally optimistic. He is passionate about the Bible and remains sensitive to the Spirit.

Of course, none of this would surprise you. When he was in 3rd grade and went away to summer camp for the first time, you told me “this kid loves adventure and he will take every opportunity given him.” Then you warned me with this, “Eventually when he leaves home, he’ll only come back to visit.”

How right you were. As a couple, we agreed to give both our kids every opportunity to have various experiences and expose them to life at its fullest. We wanted them to see the world from a kingdom viewpoint, that this earth is just a taste of what is to come; and that living under God’s guidelines is the best, most fulfilling way to experience it.

You were able to watch Parker begin the transition to manhood in his senior year as he stepped up to help care for you in your sickness. You knew he had made his college decision for Cedarville University. You were so excited for him and let him know he would do well.

Just like he did in high school, he dove head first into the deep end at college and got involved in many areas. Remember when we would wonder how he would manage it all? But somehow he always did and he continues to do so. His summer experiences have been the most amazing opportunities just like you would have hoped and he always has the next one planned before the first one is finished, with a plan B in case plan A doesn’t work.

You would be so happy that he’s also become very adept at allowing me to be the single parent and has learned how I work, so that we can figure out life together. Starting with the big picture of “I want to study overseas for a semester,” to gathering all the details, answering my questions and letting me have time to think it all over. He’s learned to respect my thoughts and discernment, without being impatient with the process. It has taken growth on both our parts, but we’ve come to a good place as mother and son, for which I know you would be pleased. He’s gone for long periods of times, but when he’s home, he jumps right back in and helps with the lawn, windows or whatever I need. While he’s away, he faithfully calls every weekend, giving me the details of his week without ever making me feel he’s in a hurry to get off the phone.

Someone recently gave me one of the best compliments I could ever receive: They told me I’m the opposite of a clingy, helicopter mom; that I’ve let my kids continue on their own journeys inspite of how easy it would be to try to hang on to them or make them feel guilty that they should stay nearby because I’m alone.

How could I ever do that? That would fly in the face of the way you and I raised them for 17 and 19 years before God took you home. As painful as it has been, I have continued to parent them with the same philosophy and biblical truths that we had instilled in them for all those years. When discussions have come up, it’s been easy to continue the practice of looking for commands and principles in Scripture and then going from there. That hasn’t changed. We talk about the issue openly and analyze it. We all know how you would respond. I can’t remember a time when I doubted what you would say or think.

So about Parker going to study in Jerusalem, you would have simply asked about the finances and then responded with, “why wouldn’t he go? It’s the opportunity of a lifetime!”

And then there’s our girl….Paige is starting her senior year at Cornerstone University. She doesn’t even need me to move her back in. She loads the Taurus and drives over to Grand Rapids and calmly does it all on her own. She is definitely independent, which you well know. But she’s also exceeded our expectations and has blossomed into a beautiful woman who is very involved in many aspects of college, has had internships and run fundraisers. As you always said, her people skills will get her through life. Sometimes she still surprises me with her newest venture, but I always know when she puts her mind to something, she will carry it through. We never had to worry about her being a follower, because we knew Paige never does anything unless she really wants to. One of my highlights of this year was flying to Denver to see where Paige spent the summer. Seeing her in her own territory was awesome. Her confidence, friendliness and maturity are all at a whole new level. I’m so thankful for God’s work in her life. We had a great time as mother and daughter exploring and hanging out. I know when her graduation comes next spring, you will be giving everyone in Heaven high fives!

You would be proud of both of them. Maybe you are proud. I don’t know how much or how often God lets you see aspects of our earthly lives. For us, much has happened in the 32 months without you, but through our pain, we’ve somehow managed to arrive at a new normal. It’s not a normal we ever wanted, but one we’ve accepted. We watch out for each other and understand that the grief comes in waves and although it sometimes knocks us down unexpectedly, we somehow manage to get back up and keep going.

Daily, I wish you were here to share life with. This phase of parenting is different. It’s a lot of letting go and encouraging from the sidelines. Not too much is hands-on anymore. I can only imagine the discussions we would be having as we were so looking forward to this phase of life together. Without you, I’ve learned to take it to the Lord. He truly comforts me. He alone carries my tears and knows my pain. He understands my deepest heart’s desire is for our kids to follow Him. He cares about that even more than me, which as a mother is hard to imagine. But what comfort there is in the fact that God loves Paige and Parker more than I do. He can and will do the work in their lives with or without me. In fact, He never really needed us. Parenting is a privilege and a responsibility. Any positive results are not because of us. On the contrary, it’s despite us.

Our job is not to make them dependent on us; it’s not to fulfill our happiness or fill a void in our lives. No, our goal is to give them wings and watch them fly. Like you always said, we want them to run hard after Christ. I’ve had many conversations with my friends also experiencing the empty nest. With compassion, they share that they can’t imagine experiencing it alone.

Being a single parent was not in my plan. Yet the foundation had been laid with you by my side, so all I’ve had to do was to make the choice to just keep going. By God’s grace, I have and I will continue to do my best. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not impervious to fears, doubts and anxious thoughts. But when they threaten to overtake, I preach the truth to myself and remember that I’ve never had any control over their safety or destiny. They are safest in God’s hands and I best not get in His way.

Packing my kids for a week at camp was hard;

the first time they drove to high school on their own was even harder;

and the hardest so far has been when they moved away to college.

Now they are both almost completely on their own. With tears in my eyes then and now, I have always lived with the full understanding that we raise our kids to let them go. If I truly believe they are in God’s hands, how can I be anything but excited for them? Following God’s plan is going to be far greater than anything I could ever imagine.

So from your heavenly viewpoint and from my earthly one, let’s continue to watch them soar.

All my love.

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

 

 

 

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It’s been 2 and a half years since I had my husband by my side. With Patrick, I had a life partner who shared the responsibilities, burdens, and daily grind of life. Likewise, we also shared smiles, laughter and joy. As each year of our marriage progressed, our history become more combined as a couple which made our single lives before marriage less and less significant. Essentially, as our oneness grew, we couldn’t really remember life without the other. I was 23 when we married. Yes I had a life and a personality before Patrick, along with some very good memories, but the majority of my life has been with him by my side. I am who I am in large part due to our years spent together. Although to some it may seem it’s been a long time since Patrick died, it’s really quite short compared to the length of time we were married.

Without Patrick, life has lost a lot of its color; I so miss his laughter, perspective, leadership and even having disagreements. What I wouldn’t do to have him here to try to convince I’m right about something. Funny, now looking back, it never bothered him if we didn’t see eye to eye on a topic, but it drove me crazy! I was the one trying to persuade him to agree with me 100%. He would laugh and say it’s fine we don’t agree on this, but I never gave up trying. Even in that, I see that once again, he was right. I think when I see him in Heaven, one of the first things I’m going to tell him is that he was right about everything!

Recently in another low time in my grief, I found myself turning to one of my favorite passages in Lamentations 3. As I was reading and praying through the chapter, my eyes kept going back to verse 24. “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him.”

I like to pray verses out loud, so the process went something like this:

Reading the verse backwards, I said: “I will hope in the Lord because He is my portion.”

I wondered: “What exactly does “portion” mean? If I’m putting my hope in it, I really should know.”

So I googled the word and found several Old Testament references where it’s used. I looked them up, wrote them out and read some online commentaries. What I discovered was fascinating.

Originally, the word was used when the Lord was telling Aaron how the tribe of Levites was going to be treated differently than the rest of the Israeli tribes. While the other 11 tribes were given specific pieces of property wherein to raise their families and support themselves, the Levites were not given any land. They were in full time service to the Lord, which meant they worked in the tabernacle. They were not given an inheritance with land, but instead were to trust the Lord to provide for them regularly. God would use other means to have their needs met.

Essentially, God was telling Aaron that the Levites’ inheritance was Himself and He would be their portion and they would have Him (God) provide their needs in every way.

Several times throughout the book of Psalms, the word portion is also used. The various authors in Psalms often cry out in anguish to God about their problems, but then they come back and state something true about God’s character. It’s like our mind telling ourselves to see the positive in an otherwise negative situation. Except this isn’t just the power of positive thinking. It’s so much more when it’s based on God and His Word.

For example, in Psalm 16:5, the author states, “the Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.” Again, in reference to an inheritance, he knows that he is choosing his inheritance to be God and not what the world offers. It is enough to have the Lord’s favor and comfort, regardless of the difficulties this life brings. This earth is neither my final home nor where I was created to be forever.

Probably one of the most famous uses of this word is found in Psalm 73:26, which reads, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” In the early parts of this chapter, the author is bemoaning about how much better everyone else has it than he does. He feels like following God has not benefited him at all. However, he changes his tune in verse 16 when he begins to remember that here on earth the whole story won’t be told. The end of those who don’t follow God is not the same as those who do. Verse 26 may be the climax of the text when the author basically sighs and admits that regardless of how weak his flesh is, God is his strength and portion.

As I contemplated this, I realize it’s the same for me today as it was in the OT days. God gives me just what I need when I need it. It’s not about tangible blessings or a carefree life. It’s about looking to Him to fill the void that is innate to all of us. He is the only inheritance that we need.

In the past few months, I’ve made some bigger decisions that have solidified my singlehood. I am no longer part of a couple and I can’t function like I am. Life is different. I am moving forward, even though it’s far from easy. Even in the joys, there is a constant ache. I will always be wishing Patrick were here to share life with, especially when it comes to our children and watching them continue to grow into adulthood. It’s strange how I miss my husband every day, but special occasions heighten the awareness. The entire week of our wedding anniversary, I was acutely aware of my loneliness. Longing for what I had lost and wondering how I will ever survive on my own.

Once again, I found myself starving for more of the Lord. Once again, I was on my knees sobbing and pouring out my heart to Him. Once again, the Word was the only thing that would satisfy.

And once again, He came through…with just the right portion…of Himself!

I can’t put my hope in my circumstances changing. Being impatient with the grief process doesn’t help at all. There’s no way to go back to my previous life and I shouldn’t worry about my future. All I need to focus on is right now, this moment, and how God is taking care of me. I have everything I need in Him and I trust Him implicitly with my life.

Psalm 119:57 “You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words.”

By the way, next month at this time I will be on my mission trip to Hungary. I am so thankful that all my funds came in! I am now working hard at preparing lesson plans for adult advanced ESL learners. If you think about it, please pray for me July 22 – August 4th. Pray I will adjust well to the time difference and be open to whatever opportunities God has for me.

 

Growing Old

Posted: May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

May brought my birthday and celebrating it without Patrick just isn’t the same. Back in the good ole days, I would have said we didn’t make a big deal out of my birthday, but honestly I knew Patrick would have something planned and we would celebrate in one way or another. He was great about having one card from the kids and another from himself. Even though Mother’s Day is about a week before my birthday, he would have separate cards and celebrations for each occasion. Whether it was just going out to dinner or opening a small gift, he did something to make me feel special. I loved that on whatever card he bought, he underlined certain words, added exclamation points and then wrote personal comments at the bottom. It wasn’t about money being spent; it was the thoughtfulness and love put into remembering and knowing I was treasured.

Now before my birthday arrives, I tend to jump to the “let’s skip it because who really cares?” It’s not that I don’t want to be another year older. I will never complain about getting old; I know what the alternative is. But my birthday is just another reminder that my life is different. Another milestone without Patrick; I have outlived my husband and it still feels wrong.

Birthdays make me reflective and I can’t help but think over the past 4 years. On my 45th birthday, I was enjoying life and cruising along aware of my many blessings. But only a year later when I was turning 46, my life had drastically changed and I was caring for my husband with a terminal illness. By my 47th birthday, I had been a widow for five months and life was a complete fog. I couldn’t even remember last year turning 48, so I went back and read my journal and this excerpt jumped out at me:

“Now I’m a whole year older than he ever was. It’s weird. It sucks. I hate it. I miss him so much. I sobbed myself to sleep last night. Didn’t even want to close my eyes. Just wanted to stay awake and be sad all night….

But a few paragraphs down, I ended that day’s journal with….” Went to bed at peace. Missing Patrick terribly, but at peace.”

 Now, age 49 is here:

  • Physically, I feel great. Running has whipped me into the best shape of my life since college. This year’s calendar is already scheduled with half-marathon numbers 4 and 5.
  • Mentally, most days my head is clear and I function well.
  • Emotionally, it’s still up and down, although the downs don’t last as long anymore. I attest that to just having accepted the pain. It’s my reality that I live with a constant dull ache because part of me is missing.
  • Spiritually, I try to cling to my Savior and His Word day by day. Admittedly, I tend to look for other things to satisfy and I need to preach the truth to myself that nothing and no one will fill the longings of my heart, outside of Christ. Reminds me of the old song Come Thou Fount: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.”

God in his sovereignty knew that I was going to need some extra pick-me-up during my birthday month, so He chose to have me born in May when the kids get out of college and life gets a little crazy with their summer schedules. That has truly been my saving grace and I am very thankful. It would be much harder to have a birthday in the middle of winter when I don’t see the kids at all. Parker has been home for the whole month working full-time, as well as helping me with numerous projects around the house. We took a weekend trip to Rochester, NY and visited some friends and a great church. Paige was home before and after her Zambia mission trip. We’ve all had fun together at a few weddings. Both of them leave again the first week of June, but they have such great opportunities ahead of them this summer, I am super excited for them. Paige will be working in Colorado at Noah’s Ark White Water Rafting and Parker will be traveling around the Midwest with the music group HeartSong for his college.

Overall, I have enjoyed this month and I’m really ok with having another birthday. People do care and I am far from alone. Cleaning out a closet this week I came across some cards from the past couple of years. Anything with Patrick’s writing on it makes my heart stop and I treasure each word. So with tears and smiles, I enjoyed this card probably more now than I did when it was first given. It’s true we wanted to grow old together and it would have been a blast. But God had different plans and by His continual grace and strength, I will live to be as old as He has already decided. And I will strive to live life fully for His glory.

IMG_4788Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”