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Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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{A blog series} All Things New: Finding the Courage to Love Again

Posted by | brave, courage, death, family life, hope, marriage, relationships, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

The following is part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.” I am sharing this month about my journey learning to flourish after my husband’s death in 2014. Be sure to check out some of the other posts in the series, including a few by guest writers.

We stood at Yosemite National Park’s most famous lookout, the Wawona Tunnel View. Fog and threads of clouds swirled around the chiseled mountain outlines of El Capitan and Half Dome. The majestic view was decidedly mysterious.

Although I have visited Yosemite many times throughout my life, that winter day was somehow different. The beauty was unexpected and breathtaking. The snow-capped mountains were pregnant with a kind of hope for spring rains, for abundance to come. And I knew it was the start of something new in me.

Even in the uncertainty, even in the grief, I felt God speaking to me. His presence was palpable. Despite all the voices in my head that were screaming not to step in, not to trust, not to risk having my heart shattered again, I knew God was inviting me into a new story.

I took a step that day. I felt like Moses stepping into the cloud in Exodus 33. I begged Him to show me His glory.

Shawn and I talked and prayed together as we walked the trails and drove the winding roads through the park. We reminisced about my late husband Ericlee, who had been one of Shawn’s best friends through the years.

When Shawn held my hand, I knew I had to have courage to begin again. Author Brene Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

Love looks different when you’ve buried your soul mate long before his time. This was not the heart-fluttering, dress-up-for-Saturday dates kind of love of my twenties. This love affair was starting with vulnerability. It was dressed in a heavy cloak of grief and loss. And it came with the extra gift of three children who desperately missed their daddy in heaven.

A few months before my mama had planted a little seed in my heart. She told me she believed God was going to provide someone new – a husband for me and a father for the girls. I was still so broken from the loss of my beloved to cancer that I could hardly receive her words. I didn’t have the strength to dream. Not yet.

But the tiny mustard seed took root in the deepest recess of my heart.

Was it any wonder that I was also studying the story of Ruth and Boaz in my Bible study at church? I read that favorite Bible story with fresh eyes as a young widow. I had always admired Ruth and her character. I never imagined I would be able to relate to the emotions she felt after the death of her husband.

As I dug deep into the soil of the book of Ruth, I unearthed some new truths now that I was a widow. Ruth was courageous. She had to step out in vulnerability to receive God’s provision. She heeded the advice of her mother-in-law and humbly presented herself to Boaz.

I often wonder if she feared judgment. In my own Ruth-and-Boaz story, I grappled with fear of what people might say about beginning a relationship so soon after my husband’s death. Although I had been grieving for many months anticipating his death, I knew it would still be hard for some people to understand. I wavered when I thought about my daughters and the shame they might endure because of my actions. I worried about weaving together a new family.

Jesus continued to guide us step by step. I heard nothing but affirmation from my family and closest friends. Trusted mentors gave their blessing. Even my mother-in-law, who had buried her son that previous year, welcomed our relationship with open arms.

When we got engaged that summer, she cried tears of joy that her granddaughters would have a daddy. She adopted Shawn as her son years before I was even in the picture. There was no doubt in our minds this wild story was being written by God.

One time I asked Shawn if it was hard for him to think about marrying me when I had already been married before. He answered without pausing: “No, I just think God sent Ericlee to take care of my wife these 11 years so I could be with you the next 30 or 40.”

His perspective both shocked and comforted me. He had waited for so long to get married. (In fact, Ericlee and I had prayed over him for years that he might find a wife.) He had a quiet confidence that this was God’s plan. We had glimpsed His glory.

I’m not going to say finding the courage to love again has been easy. My heart has often trembled at the work before me. I have buried some dreams in order to cultivate new ones. I’m grateful for the way Shawn has made space for me to grieve those dreams. He has also encouraged me to create new ones.

I work hard not to compare Shawn to Ericlee. Although they both shared several interests and passions, they are two different men. I have to be careful not to expect Shawn to do things the way Ericlee did. I have to be conscious to celebrate the memories of the past, but not to exalt them when the present day feels hard.

Marriage in all circumstances requires work and courage. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to grieve together, and to share our hearts. I am filled with a deep gratitude to be on this journey. I recognize it is a privilege to experience two loves in this lifetime.

Throughout scripture, God promises to make all things new. He is constantly doing the work of reclaiming, restoring and rebuilding. Maybe you have not lost a spouse, but you are struggling in another relationship. Maybe you need strength to reach out again.

Ponder these questions with me today: How can you step out in vulnerability to love again? How can you open your heart to the new story God might be writing for you?

When we are in Christ, He makes us a new creation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Let’s step courageously into that today.

**This post is part of a January series called “All Things New.” Check out the other stories in the series and my new Bible study, Flourishing Together:

All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss” – an introduction to the series by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, including why she chose “All Things New”

All Things New: My New Normal” – a guest post by Danell teNyenhuis about finding a new life with her daughters after her husband’s tragic death

All Things New: Life Beyond the Hospital Doors” – a guest post by Danielle Comer about life for a young widow after her husband died of cancer

All Things New: Letting Dreams Die, Cultivating New Ones” – an essay about the hard work I had to do in my heart after my husband’s death to dream again

All Things New: Learning To Breathe Again” – guest post by Tara Dickson about emptying herself of expectations and breathing in God’s truth and hope after her husband’s death

 

Flourishing Together is a new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic of how God grows beautiful things out of the ashes and dirt of our life, please check out the study:

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

*Featured Yosemite Photo by James Donovan on Unsplash

Community life insurance: The greatest investment you’ll ever make

Posted by | community, compassion, grief, hope, marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

This year my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.

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This is a story I never would have written for myself – ever

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, marriage, Stories, struggle | No Comments

His breathing tightened. Each breath now was a labor. After almost 12 years of listening to the cadence of his breath as we ran marathons together, as he slept by my side, this sound was foreign, painful. I tried to hook up the oxygen tank brought by hospice.

Twice I connected the tubes to his nostrils. Twice he ripped them out. He was still fighting for life even as the cancer coursed through his body. His mother told me with her eyes that we were near the end. My heart knew it, too.

One by one, I ushered my young daughters – ages 2, 5 and 8 – into the room and urged them to kiss Daddy one more time. I cradled his hand in mine, fingering that wedding band – an unending circle of love between us. At dawn, light streamed wildly through the blinds of our bedroom window.

His hazel eyes moved toward the light. He clapped his hands together in his signature way and left his broken body behind….

When I spoke my wedding vows to Ericlee Gilmore, I never dreamed those words – “in sickness and health until death do us part” – would mean burying him 11 years later. I imagined having babies and chasing careers. I imagined traveling to distant shores and fulfilling dreams together.

I never imagined the word cancer would one day separate us.

I never dreamed I would kneel by his grave when our three girls were still so young, and we would all have to whisper our goodbyes. This is a story I never would have written for myself. Never.

Two years ago, my beloved husband made that giant leap into heaven at age 40. He was an amazing husband, dedicated father, trusted mentor, coach and friend to countless people in this community and beyond.

Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t stop me in the grocery store or at the gym or at church to tell me a story about how their life was changed by him. I draw comfort from the ways I see his legacy lives on.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned these past two years is that I need to give myself permission to grieve. Too often in our culture we obsess over getting over it. We are afraid to pause and give ourselves space to lament. We stuff down our emotions. We are too eager to avoid the memories and move on. We criticize others who are open about their pain and grief.

If you or someone you love is grieving, know this: Every journey is unique. Cover yourself or that person with a blanket of grace. Be patient. Grief is like a tangled ball of yarn. We must unravel it in our own time. No step-by-step plan or stages of grief diagram can make it all better. Sometimes what we really need is permission.

Maybe you haven’t lost a spouse but you have experienced loss in another way. Maybe you have lost a child or buried a brother. Maybe you have left a neighborhood, a job or a church. Maybe you have experienced a miscarriage or faced infertility.

Maybe you have been hurt by a family member or a friend. Maybe your marriage is broken or you have endured some other medical trauma. Maybe your heart is bleeding for the injustice in our world, for the violence against your people. This is for you.

Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself time to lean into the memories. Give yourself space to tend to your raw soul. I have needed permission from my circle to grieve my way – not at all the way my mama or mother-in-law or best friend or that other widow grieved. My grief is personal and different. Yours will be, too.

This past January, through a wild weaving together of threads in my life, I married a man who was one of my husband’s best friends. He has walked through the grief with my daughters and me. He has joined us in the daily dance of joy and pain. He has provided comfort, companionship and confidence where we needed it most.

What I appreciate about Shawn is he gives us freedom to cry, to remember, and to celebrate Ericlee’s life. He never shames me for talking about my late husband and lamenting his absence.

I may be happily married now, but I will always be a widow. My heart aches especially in September when the days are still hot in Fresno, but the evenings bring that first cool relief and those breathtaking sunsets. Two years later, his suffering in those final days is still vivid, but the sunset somehow brings me perspective.

No matter where I am, I always pause to watch that fiery-orange sun ball slip into the coin slot of the horizon. I love the ribbons of color dancing across the sky – deep merlot, pumpkin orange, dusky lavender and deep indigo swirling. And I am always surprised at the way the colors burn even more brilliantly after the sun is gone.

 

 

Need local help?

 

The Central San Joaquin Valley has many resources for individuals and families dealing with grief and loss. These are a few that were especially helpful for our family:

▪ Hinds Hospice, Center for Grief and Healing – a local organization dedicated to providing resources and programs for families navigating grief (www.hindshospice.org, 559-226-5683).

▪ Circle of Friends – grief group for children hosted at Hinds Hospice (559-226-5683).

▪ Grief counseling – Patty Behrens, licensed marriage and family therapist (www.counselingfresno.org, 559-577-3994).

▪ G.I.G. (Gals in Growth) – a group for young widows with children led by Behrens.

▪ Grief Share, a 14-week program for individuals who have lost a loved one. Sessions available at various churches, including The Bridge in Fresno (559-226-4100).

 

**The original version of this article was published in the Valley Voices section of The Fresno Bee. Click here for the rest of the article that ended up running in more than 20 newspapers across the country.

http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article102119772.html

Do you have a friend who needs permission to grieve? Please share!

Standing at the Intersection of Fear and Faith

Posted by | fear, hope, marriage, Personal Stories, Stories | 2 Comments

I hardly remember what my husband said but I remember I stopped breathing. Results of biopsy. Melanoma in the lymph nodes. My healthy, athletic husband had cancer. At 40.

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