He Remains

As I walked into our beach condo for the week, my mind was overtaken with thoughts of this exact moment a year ago. I was in such a different place then. I remember walking in last year and all I wanted to do was find a place to sit, just sit and rest.   But, I knew rest wasn’t going to happen, rest quit happening months earlier.   We had walked through the darkest days of our lives and only nine months had gone by since mom had passed from this life to the next.   I was exhausted and emotionally devastated, I needed a place of retreat so I could somehow begin to find healing.

Those were the hardest days of my life.

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I’ve said to many, as if grieving for yourself is not hard enough, there is another level of grief that comes when WATCHING someone you love deeply try to go on after the greatest loss of their lives. For me, it was my dad. He was a hero in taking care of my sweet momma until she took her last breath, no one could’ve possibly had better care. He loved her and served until the end.

But, then overnight, he became a party of one.

Watching him hurt deeply, agonizing over the loss of his beloved, made it even harder to get up and face each day. I want to say here, I don’t think there are enough conversations about how to WATCH someone you love grieve. We talk about, and are given books and literature, even attend support groups about how to handle our own loss of a loved one. And we need those things, just to survive. But, no one mentioned a word to me about how hard it would be to watch my dad suffer and struggle through his grief. I don’t have a degree in psychology and I have not done any studies on managing grief, I am just speaking from my heart here, first-hand experience.

It was really HARD.

He never complained. Never. I kept waiting for the day he would blame God and become angry at the world and anyone who was happily living in it. But, he never did. I have no idea what he may have dealt with in the privacy of his own heart, but he never vocalized anything but trust and thankfulness for having my mom in his life for as long as he did. I almost wonder if it would’ve been easier for me to cope if he HAD been angry, then I could’ve shouted at the world and the heavens with him, “WHY? Why does life have to be so hard sometimes?”

But, he didn’t, so neither did I.

So, as I walked in the door yesterday, all these thoughts and many more flooded my mind and my senses were drenched in deja vu. I took the same steps I had taken a year earlier and allowed myself to remember how forlorn I had been back then. I let my mind wander and my heart began to feel that same familiar pain that has plagued it for the last twenty one months. Tears filled my eyes and I told my husband, “Remember this time last year?” He knew exactly what I was referring to, this precious man who has walked by my side as I lost my very best friend and mother all in one.

He loved her too.

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Now, here I was, exactly a year later reliving the same experience I’d had when I thought my heart might explode inside my chest. It had been a long year. I had held onto a thousand scriptures, prayed too many prayers to count, lost the joy of life and wondered if I would escape this pain alive. I don’t know how many times I got down on my knees, on my face even, and begged God to make it easier, but He didn’t choose that road for me, and I’m sure some of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about.

Grief is no respecter of persons.

There is no shortcut through it, but, God helps us to process it and we learn to cope. He is able and willing to turn one day into the next and support us as we face them one by one.  The only remedy for healing is time, time and the love of our Savior. He sends people that wipe our tears, He sends hope in the form of a phone call, encouragement in a random text or a listening ear over a cup of coffee. I’ve learned there is no magic moment when the pain suddenly dissipates, no immediate rescue, just His abiding love.

I facilitated a Bible study recently and on the very last discussion session we were asked to read John 15:5-8. I’ve copied it below, the emphasis on remain is mine.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you REMAIN in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not REMAIN in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you REMAIN in me and my words REMAIN in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

We learned the word abide (or REMAIN in the version above) is the Greek word Meno. It means…

to remain, abide, to sojourn, tarry, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept, continually, in reference to time, to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure, of persons, to survive, live, in reference to state or condition, to remain as one, not to become another or different **The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

I am so blown away by this definition, and did you see how many times the word remain is repeated in the passage? It’s as though God is saying, “Hang in there with me, stay connected, we will do this thing called life together. You are not alone, stay close and you’ll be held.” I read over and over this definition drinking in each word and testifying in my spirit that it is true. He does NOT depart from us, He is continually present, even when I could not feel His arms around me I can look back now and see that I was being held. He sojourns beside me, He does not ask me to bear the hurts, pains and LOSSES of life alone.

He REMAINS.

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I especially love one of the last phrases in the definition, “to remain as one.” I am no Bible scholar, but I took this to mean that the Lord and I have become so intertwined that it is hard to see where He ends and I begin.   He was so close in those days that we may as well have been one. We WERE one. That sounds so beautiful to me, so loyal and true, one might not even be able to tell us apart. No matter how mad or distant I might’ve seemed to Him, he stayed close, he was in it for the long haul; He had my survival in mind.

I love that thought.

As I lay in bed last night, again allowing myself to remember the events, people and feelings from a very painful last year, the tears began to flow. There is a physical pain that accompanies loss, it sits in the middle of your heart. But, even as my heart ached and the tears flowed, I realized that I really was stronger and I really was less fragile. Some healing had taken place and my heart didn’t feel like it was about to crack wide open.

Time and love had done and is still doing its work in me.

This morning, my husband and I made the short trek down to the water to sit and enjoy its serenity for a while. We were laden down with chairs, beach bag and I was holding onto my hat as the wind was blowing stronger than usual. It wasn’t long until we were settled and I leaned my head back to enjoy the view. I’m not sure why but as I was sitting out under the canopy of a pale blue sky watching the seagulls fight the wind, I thought about the freedom my mom must feel these days. Watching those birds glide and lean into the wind I spoke in a whisper that only my heavenly Father and I could hear, “Fly, Momma, fly. I’m so thankful you are free.”

One day we’ll fly together.

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I’m going to be okay, it was sketchy for a while, I wasn’t sure, but I am. Momma raised me and my sisters with strength and I am forever grateful to her for insisting we not give up; not on life, not on each other and not on always trying to be better.

And never on Jesus.

He is faithful and He will REMAIN.

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In the Middle

I had a coworker ask me today if I was in my thirty’s and I wanted to kiss her, seriously, or at least give her a big bear hug. I’m definitely in the middle of the forty’s, middle aged is how I refer to myself these days. I’m the middle child, I’m of an average income, I have an ordinary family size, moderate size house and I’m at the top of no one’s “people I must meet before I die” list. I am average height for an American woman, my weight falls between acceptable and throw the scales out the window and forget about it. I have the most common color eyes and hair, and nothing about me stands out in a crowd. I even love the TV show “The Middle” and Sue is my favorite.

None of this mattered until recently.

Suddenly, with two kids out the door and one not far behind, I find myself struggling with my identity. I mean, who am I anyway? If you had asked me that a few years ago, I would’ve happily given you the list of my children’s names and activities; I found joy and purpose in being their mom. I attended every game and made sure I was at every activity. Front row, if possible. Yes, I am THAT crazy mom. Although, I must confess, I’ve never been one of those moms who had their child’s name imprinted on the back of a t shirt.  You know the ones, they say “so and so’s mom” in big lettering across the shoulders or maybe in smaller print on the front. Not that I am judging anyone for wearing those, on the contrary, sometimes it is nice to be able to see who a child belongs to, ya know? In case of sudden flooding or earthquake or if a meteor falls from the sky and chaos erupts, we’ll know exactly where to take that child, there’ll be no question because of the name on their mom’s shirt.

For me, I decided that I do have a name and even though much of the time I found my identity in my kids, I still wanted to be called by it. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I need to tell you that I have a t shirt for every single sport or activity in which my kids participated.

Is that the same thing?

Cross country, track, tennis, band, choir, football (this was only a middle school sport in our family), and then the generic school t shirt to cover all the bases.

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I have them in all colors or at least in the colors that fly on our school banners. I have no idea what I will do with all of them when the last child walks across the stage to receive his diploma. I have spent the last decade of my life wearing them and it will be kind of sad when it’s time to let them go. I’ve seen others send their special t shirts away and have a quilt made out of them, and I think that is so great. They post pictures of their beautiful quilts on social media, holding them up smiling broadly.   I always stop and look at those pictures and wish I was more like those parents. But, knowing me, I will ball the worn out shirts up and put them in a bag, promising myself that I am going to send them, only to find them two years later in some closet somewhere for safe keeping.

That’s how I roll.

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Last week I found myself standing in the living room in the middle of the afternoon with nothing to do. Well, there’s ALWAYS something to do, like cleaning out closets, for example. But I did not have to be any place in particular and I had no appointments to speak of and no one was waiting on me.  This is completely foreign to me.

I was completely forlorn.

I honestly did not know what to do with myself. I walked around the house for a while trying to look busy, although no one was home. I’m not really sure who I was trying to impress. I think I just needed to be doing something, anything so I wouldn’t feel the emptiness that was creeping into my soul. My phone was silent, only one car was in the driveway and it belonged to me. I’ve heard mom’s say they love times like these, when no one needs them and they can take a much needed and deserved break.

But, somehow its different when you know it’s more than just a break, it’s about to be your life.

Finally, I gave up the charade that I was cleaning or being productive and sat in my cozy recliner. I laid my head back and began to let my mind wander. Back to earlier years and happy times; times when I knew who I was and why I was on this earth, when it felt like what I was doing mattered. I’ve wondered through the years how I would react to these days, when my children were grown and I became the owner once again of my time. When I became an “empty nester.” Just typing those two words brings sweat to my brow. I’ve never looked forward to the idea of walking down the halls of my home only to see one empty bedroom after another.

I just don’t know what to do with myself.

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I’ve always told others not to worry when that season of life comes, the Lord will fill up the days. And deep in my heart I know this is true, but somehow that doesn’t bring me the comfort that it used to, it’s all so close now.  Since I’ve been through a few really hard things lately, I’m keenly aware of how precious life is and the gifts each day brings; the gifts of relationships, second chances, leaps of faith, and courage.

Life is too precious to waste.

I’m pretty sure that I will handle this next chapter of my life below average, not because I want to but because I’m struggling with more than just the empty nest that looms before me after this school year.   I’m being forced to find a new identity, to figure out who I really am post child-rearing years.   My husband says I need a hobby. I used to like to read, back when I had time. Maybe I’ll renew my library card, do they have expiration dates?

Guess I’ll check on that when I have a free afternoon again.

I do have one more school year with my youngest child. We took him to have senior portraits taken this weekend and I had a lump in my throat the whole time. He was a real good sport, and the photographer who has taken senior pictures for all of my children was sympathetic to my plight.

Most people are. You’ve either been there or you know it’s coming.

Well, band camp started today for my drummer. His last one. I’m thinking about going up to the school and sitting and watching him, maybe I’ll wear my band t shirt, after all, I only have a limited number of times left to wear it. Somehow, I don’t think he would be real happy about my idea. I guess I’ll just wait here in the recliner and ask him about it when he gets home.

Or maybe, I’ll go clean out a closet.

I know one thing for sure, I’ll be waiting by the door when he gets home to greet him.

This is my last time around and I don’t want to miss a thing.

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The Time It Took

Celebrating twenty four years of marriage this week; how is that even possible? Time goes so fast, sometimes I feel that it is a thief. It slips up in the night and takes away all that you know and the people that you love. And just when you think it might slow down and befriend you, it goes even faster and you find yourself hanging on with both hands to keep up.

But, then again, time provides the window that enables us to live out our story and in the end that’s the greatest gift of all. So maybe it’s not such a thief, but a gift giver instead, I guess it all depends on one’s perspective.

It was a long time ago, but I still remember clearly the first time I saw my husband, he sang in a college group. They would travel around and sing in churches in hopes to create some interest in the college and potentially gain some new students. He was blonde and handsome and I was young and wearing the most hideous flower covered dress you’ve probably ever seen. I wish I had a picture of it so you would know that it is not an understatement when I tell you it was awful.

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This is not the dress I was wearing, but you get the idea.

 

 

But, somehow he noticed me in spite of the dress; a small miracle.

My dad was the pastor of a small church in Florida and there might have been eighty people in attendance that Sunday. Each came to hear the college singing group that came all the way  from Iowa to perform for our small congregation. He was blonde, did I mention that already? And he had blue eyes and was perfectly dreamy as far as I was concerned. I was at a point in my life where I was looking to attend a Bible college and this one had my attention for obvious reasons.

After that Sunday service, all I needed to know was where to sign up.

Not too much later I found myself a student at the same small college in Iowa. This might be no big deal to some, but to this Florida born girl, it might as well have been a foreign country. We didn’t travel much growing up so going this far across the United States felt so brave and exciting.   I had gone to a college previously and because of my immaturity and lack of funds, I had dropped out and come home. After working in the shoe department for a year and a half at JC Penney, I finally had it together enough to try again.

I’ve never done things the easy way, it seems.

Well, it didn’t take long for me to officially meet the man of my dreams and future father of my children. He stood out in the crowd with those blonde locks. We were friends for a while first, meeting in the student center to play foosball or we’d sit at a booth and drink a coke while talking about anything and everything that came into our heads.

Young love is so fun.

I remember the butterflies when we would sit together at dinner or pass each other on the way to class. I looked forward to our “not so accidental” meetings around campus. It took some time and patience, but we finally decided to give this thing a go and it’s the best decision I ever made.

Choosing my husband was easy, but being married was another story.

I would like to talk to any young person who will listen to me at this point in my married story.

It does have a happy ending. But, you need to know that you don’t go into a forever commitment and think there will be no work involved. And, don’t think for a moment that because you’ve found your special somebody you’ll be walking on easy street.   No more troubles, no more sorrows, and just romantic bliss until death do you part.

It doesn’t work that way.

Jeff and I spent the first few years of our marriage butting heads. I am a strong willed person and I like to have my way. It’s one of my many charms. We would argue and go to bed mad. I know, exactly what you should never do in a healthy relationship, but we were young and foolish. But, because we WANTED our relationship to work and we COMMITTED to seeing it through, we kept trying.

I can remember one time in particular when we’d had such a huge argument, I decided I was just done. I was tired, we had three children and I hadn’t slept in years (that’s how it felt) and I just wanted EASY. Now that is a laugh. Once you’ve had children, you give up easy for a lifetime. But, that is another blog for another day. Anyway, I was just so over trying and compromising and hoping for better, I just wanted to relax on the beach and forget about everything and everyone.

I recollect standing in my kitchen at my wits end, one baby crying, another throwing toys, one on the hip, with dirty laundry spilling out of the laundry room, I cried, “Lord, I need a trip to the beach. My life would be so much easier if I could escape it.” Oh how I whined. I look back now and I want to say to my younger self, get over it girl.

I’m so thankful the Lord is patient with us, He gives us circumstances as we are able to handle them. That is so important to understand. He gives what we need as we need it, not a moment sooner, but never a moment too late. No matter how it may FEEL, He knows exactly where we are and how we’re doing.

Don’t lose sight of that.

But, at that moment in the kitchen, I really thought I might drown in all of the work and tears and “lack of” that comes with raising children, but you know what, I didn’t. It wasn’t pretty much of the time, but I made it.   I didn’t know much, but, thankfully, because of my Godly parents, I did know where to turn when I needed help; which was pretty much all the time. He came to my rescue and He will come to your rescue too.

But you have to make up your mind.

You have to DECIDE that you’re not going anywhere. DECIDE that you’re going to be the person God has called you to be, that come hell or high water, you’re going to see this thing through. (Of course I am not talking about any type of abusive relationship here.) When things get messy, and they most certainly will, DECIDE that you will get on your knees, your face even and cry out to the ONE who is GREATER than ALL of your hardships and HE will dry all of your tears.

He will see you through.

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And one day, like me, you’ll look back and wonder how in the world you made it. But even as you wonder, in your heart you’ll know, it was because of the ONE who loves you the most.   He stepped in and walked the road with you, even if you didn’t recognize it at the time.

Trust me; I know what I’m talking about here.

Through the young years of marriage and through the rearing of three precious souls, he has taught me a million lessons. Some of them I learned and others I’ve had to be reminded of time and time again. He’s constantly working in me and refining me to be the person HE knows I am capable of being. And He’s doing the same in YOU. It’s so easy to get distracted with wanting to have our own way or wishing for something more than what we already have. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we ALREADY have right at our fingertips.

Potential.

There is so much potential in you; so much potential in your marriage, your home, your children, your life, in everything, not because of you, but because of HIM.

Hang in there, don’t give up!

Keep pressing on!

Time will march on and leave you wondering at how the days turned into months and how the months turned into twenty four years. Your children will be adults and your parents will be aging and you will look around you and thank GOD that you stuck it out because HE DID NOT DISAPPOINT!

And THEN you will wish you had kept that ugly flowery dress, because it held a million priceless memories.

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Proverbs 20:6-7

“Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.”

“God created marriage. No government subcommittee envisioned it. No social organization developed it. Marriage was conceived and born in the mind of God.”  ~ Max Lucado

Success

Recently I had a meaningful conversation with my sons about living up to their full potential; working hard and making sacrifices in order to be successful. At those young ages you think success will be easy and attainable. I mean, if you work hard enough or come up with the next great idea you could easily become a millionaire, or at least independently wealthy. Optimism squeezes out any doubt, and hopes of a brilliantly bright future blind any fears that may be trying to pull at your heart.

As we were talking, the subject of success continued to surface. Being successful, chasing success, having a successful career, marriage, life—how do you define that? The discussion piqued my curiosity, “what is the standard by which you can look into your own life and say, ‘yes, according to (insert standard here) I am a success.’” I realized as we dove further into the conversation that even being raised by the same parents in a similar environment, the idea of what success looks like is different from one person to the next. What I might define as successful, another member of my family might not.

Some might consider making a lot of money the standard for success, others might say investing in people is worth more than silver or gold. Some might think less is more and others can’t get enough. So I began to wonder, “What is the one factor or idea about success on which we can all agree.”

Many of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I am a very amateur runner. Maybe jogger is a more accurate description. Anyway, not long ago I ran in a 5k where the proceeds went to help sponsor the Ronald McDonald house, I am a big fan of this organization and what they do. It was hotter than Hades and the humidity had to be at one hundred percent. When it was finally time for the race to begin, the national anthem had been sung and we heard over the bull horn, “on your mark, get set, GO!” I started to run. The only problem was I wasn’t really able to run as fast as I started out. What I mean is, I was running at a pace I knew I could not maintain. I was caught up in the adrenaline of the moment. The excitement of a yelling crowd, upbeat music playing in my ear buds and other runners flying by me.

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I desperately wanted to keep up.

So I did.

Bad idea.

I was living in the moment and it was beyond my abilities, but it felt so good to be so fast, so I kept going. By the second mile, I was feeling the heat, my legs began to feel like lead and I could hardly catch my breath. Moms with strollers which housed large children began to pass me, ladies and gentlemen who were twenty to thirty years my senior sailed by, all I could do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. I continued to slow until by the third mile I prayed, “Lord, please help me to survive this and finish and I promise to be smarter next time.” Now, it remains to be seen if I’ll be smarter, but I know I learned a valuable lesson.

Don’t look around and try to be like the crowd.

Run your own race.

I knew what my pace should’ve been, I knew what I could do, but I wanted to be like the faster ones, the ones who looked so graceful and successful. My own ability suddenly seemed small in the light of what they were capable of doing and I felt I needed to keep up, to do what they were doing. In the end, none of it felt very outstanding as I staggered across the finish line.

There is nothing wrong with challenging yourself and being competitive, but whether or not you feel successful should not hinge on how your outcome compares to those around you.

Success comes in the effort.

I heard this quote not long ago and it continues to echo in my heart, it applies so much to what I am attempting to say…

THE MAN IN THE ARENA

by: Theodore Roosevelt

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So that helps me to wrap some words around what successful living means. It’s not in the failing or the achieving, but in the trying.

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I looked up the definition of success in Webster’s dictionary and according to him it is “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” I need to ask myself as I am attempting to do something hard or out of my comfort zone, for what result am I looking? And is the result going to be for my betterment or for the betterment of those around me? And am I doing my best to reach my desired result? I don’t need to ask myself, “How did I fare compared to those around me?” “Did anyone compliment me or notice my effort?” Those types of questions are speculative at best, and subject to public opinion.

There has to be a place in your heart and mind where you set your goal, and no matter what happens or how anyone else performs around you, you see the success in your attempt.

Success or failure is found in the effort.

I’ve been leading a Bible study at my local church. Actually I’m a facilitator as the study is discussion driven. I’m attempting something out of my comfort zone. I’ve facilitated studies in the past, but it has been years ago before my mom passed, my children moved out, and life seemed so much simpler. It was back when my kids were little and I felt as if I had a message to bring to the table. A lot has happened since I led the last study and I have learned how little I really know.

Loss has taught me many lessons.

As a result of my sorrow I found myself hiding from any real attempt at teaching anybody anything; what did I know anyway? Well, the Lord never lets us stay in places that are unhealthy for long, He calls us into the light, into a place of healing. Part of my healing is leading this group of dedicated church attenders in a study about prayer. I’m loving it. Whether or not anyone receives a single word of encouragement from this study, I have to remind myself that how the participants feel is not how my success will be determined, it will be my attempt, in the trying.

Are you starting to see the pattern?

Your success is in the attempt. It’s in putting forth your greatest effort and finding joy and fulfilment in the trying not necessarily in the results.

Hands giving  okay sign

What are you attempting today? What has you outside of your comfort zone, cringing at the effort and fear of failure? Stop and really think and pray about what you would like to see happen and then put your heart into it and celebrate as you accomplish each goal.

Set your goals and run with them. (Pun intended, I couldn’t help myself.)

And then take time to celebrate your success.

Oh, and a happy dance is always in order.

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