Tag Archives: hope

Life Under Construction

BA13A934-E086-4F7A-AB8A-A2E993C5400EIn March of 2017, Mike and I went on a seven day cruise with our son, David and our daughter in law, Clara. Finding someone to stay with Jon that long is rare, but our good friends, Lou and Thelma, graciously offered to hold down the home front for us.

It wasn’t so much about where we went and what we did, but the opportunity to unwind and be uninterrupted together. It took Mike about four days to leave the weight of his many responsibilities behind. I watched his shoulders relax, the worry lines across his forehead fade, saw his dry wit and easy laughter return. And the fun of cruising got us talking seriously about his retirement when he turned sixty five, still five years away.

Retirement seemed like a mute point to him without us having freedom to come and go. We needed a solution for Jon if we were going to be able to travel and do some of the things we’ve always wanted to do. On Friday of cruise week, he sat us all down at lunch, excited about a great idea he had. He wanted to build a caregiver house on our property and have someone live there to help with Jon. It would be a one time expenditure, something we could pay off, unlike life long residential care, and would provide a long term solution to our retirement challenge.

The four of us agreed it was a good idea if we could convince the code and permitting powers that be, to approve it. In Mike’s typical get-on-it, gotta’-fix-it-now style, he started in as soon as we arrived home. Checking out tiny house architectural designs, taking out a loan, calling the city, arguing with permitting, lining up the general contractor, surveyor and land clearing. As usual, he began moving through the process methodically, with the weight of a freight train and the efficiency of an ant army.

Before the concrete slab was poured, he was craigslist surfing and sale shopping, buying appliances, flooring, paint, sinks, faucets, lighting, a hot water tank and AC unit. All of which are still piled in packing boxes in the garage.DD9A92A2-C803-44E4-B2D8-C7A41A57F2FA

Things propelled into fast forward and we were excited to see block walls going up. The project was scheduled to be completed by the end of December. Then, in early October, my husband died. I put the project on hold, seriously considering bulldozing the whole thing down. Why care about retirement now? And why would would I want to travel or do anything without him? This was his dream for our future and he literally died at the door of it. That is where I found him when I came home that evening, leaving our future in ruins at my feet.

This little house had suddenly become a reminder of all that was not to be and a barely completed weight added to the many new responsibilities I now had to carry alone. Every time I looked at it, it reminded me of life in my sorrow-filled season: sad, empty, incomplete, uncertain and burdensome. I began to hate that house, but realized God knew the timing of all this. It had been constructed far enough for me to see the foolishness and waste of tearing it down. So I resolved to finish it.

FF9E636D-308C-42F1-9AF4-8B8179B7344FAfter four months it is back under construction (along with a new roof going on the house we live in, another project landing in my lap when Mike exited). My property is swarming with construction people this week. It is anything but peaceful here.

Life is always under construction. Change comes. Ripping down. Rebuilding. Clearing away the old. Making space for something new. Some construction we look forward to and just as often, are the times we would never choose the abrupt, difficult and complete re-structuring we find ourselves in.

Construction is loud, messy, noisy, annoying and feels endlessly incomplete. But it’s goal is for a finished product. A purpose. Something useful up ahead. Though I don’t see it, can’t feel it, and hate the place I’m in, I must believe God has my best at heart. Only He can complete me.

“And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the day of Christ Jesus,” Philippians 1:6.C3A6ECCF-C130-4D56-87BB-A6483B4676D8

My entire life is currently under construction. Fortunately, God is a patient master builder. He leaves nothing undone. While everything feels chaotic and uncertain, I’m hanging on to the hope of a finished product that glorifies Him and the promise of a future that looks to Jesus, ‘the author and finisher of my faith’ (Hebrews 12:2). And I pray something beautiful will rise up from the dust of this unwanted situation.

“Come let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” Hosea 6:1

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain..” Psalm 127:1

The Empty Chair

81640725-A0DE-462F-A7EA-5862E71E35C2Jon came out of his room and down the hallway toward the office where my friend and I were talking, me in my office chair and she on the opposite side of the desk, in the chair Mike once occupied. Mike and I had often hung out together in this room and many engaging conversations took place from these chairs.

Jon’s face lit up, as he peeked through the glass panes of the French door and the large fake fern blocking most of his view. He quickly hurried through the door then stopped, frozen, as heart wrenching disappointment flooded his expression.

This son, who rarely talks, clenched his fists, “That’s my dad’s chair! You are not my dad! Get out of his chair!” He yelled, his face grimacing in anger.

Surprised by his outburst, my friend stood up, looking from him to me, the ‘What should I do?’ question in her eyes.

As I watched this play out, a new wave of deep sorrow flooded through me. I began to cry. I understood, Jon had seen the silhouette of a person in his dad’s chair and for a moment, he believed Mike was there.

My friend finally spoke, “I‘m so sorry Jon. I didn’t mean to upset you. I won’t sit in this chair anymore if you don’t want me to.”

Anger was suddenly replaced by sadness. Jon turned, leaned his head against the filing cabinet and began to cry quiet, trickling tears.

I wanted so much to wrap him in a long embrace and cry with him but I knew he would never allow it. Attempting to maintain some composure for this grieving son who desperately needed comfort, I went to him and placed my hand on his shoulder. Barely. Only touching his shirt really, not his skin.

“I’m so sorry Honey. I know you thought that was Dad in his chair when you first looked. But remember, he’s not here anymore. I know that makes you sad, angry and disappointed all at the same time because sometimes it does me too. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. I know you miss him.”

He wrenched his shoulder back and threw my touch away, anger surging through him again. We faced several more tidal waves of emotion as Jon processed his disappointment. Eventually he quieted and went to the kitchen.

Last night, this text came from my other child.

A736C9D8-893C-4080-AE47-839556D0210F

 

 

 

 

And my heart breaks again.

My sons are still reeling from the loss of their father and the empty chair is but a reminder of what an amazing, caring, family man Mike was and how severely he is missed. I wonder at how blessed we were to have Mike in our days and how we’ll learn to move forward without him here. We each had our own way of leaning on him and loving him. His absence is an emptiness, a large sink hole, pulling us in with an unrelenting ache of sadness.

I pray for my children in their sorrow. I pray at some point, the weeping of this long night will be replaced with a renewed joy (Psalm 30:5) for all of us. I pray God will fill the emptiness of our hearts with His overwhelming love and goodness.

I pray…pray..and pray. From the empty chair.

 

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the broken hearts and binds up their sorrows.“

Christmas ReWrap

74A61655-0EA9-41A3-829C-6C7DAE8A7A39On Christmas Eve of 1974, Mike asked me over to the apartment he and his brother shared. We’d been dating since June of that year. Not long, when I think about it now. I drove to the old house in our home town and climbed the stairs to the third story attic some eager landlord had turned into a makeshift resemblance of a living space. As I remember, It was sparsely furnished, befitting of two young bachelors barely out of high school.

In the living room, a Christmas tree, set in front of a floor to ceiling window, was decorated with not enough lights and dime store ornaments. The only other furnishing was a shabby sofa which we leaned against as we sat on the floor, holding hands.

That evening Mike reached under that old sofa, pulled out a tiny box with a red bow on top and asked me to marry him. He was eighteen. I was nineteen. I’ve never celebrated a Christmas without him since.

Until now.

Year after year, Mike was my Christmas tradition. He was the constant in every season; from setting up the tree, then sitting on the couch to watch the kids and I decorate it, or hiding gifts all over the house and warning me not to peek if I found bags and boxes in strange places, to his impatient waiting for the pie to come out of the oven, so he could harass me endlessly to have a piece before Christmas dinner.

Forty three Christmas seasons have come and gone and now, so has he, and I have to figure out how to rewrap Christmas in a different package, one that doesn’t continuously assault me with loss, emptiness and tears.

I don’t know how to do Christmas without my husband. I don’t even know where to start. I do know that Christmas will never be the same again.

One certainty of this season is a confidence in Who it has always been about. I know the Jesus we are celebrating. While everything feels disheveled, broken and uncertain; in the middle of my sorrow, my hope is in The One the prophet Isaiah foretold and Jesus himself proclaimed to be:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18-21.

No other Christmas season has it ever been as clear as in this one, and never have I been more thankful for Emmanuel who came for me. Emmanuel who is with me. I SO qualify to receive His promise of hope and redemption and He does not disappoint. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

In whatever difficult, impossible, unbearable, crushing situation you’re facing this Christmas, you qualify too.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Who Am I ?

5D7B0A02-BF33-41D0-9831-40DB1222CB4EI’ve been Pastor Mike’s wife for many years. I no longer have a pastor husband and I’m no longer a wife.

You don’t realize how much of your identity is tied to your spouse until they’re gone.

Everything I thought I was changed in one day. I know who I am in Christ. That’s not the issue. I just don’t know who I am on this earth. Not without Mike. This isn’t a path I planned. The choice was made for me. It’s the beginning of a journey to discover my new ‘alone’ earth identity and everything within me is resisting this road I must travel.

There is so much loss this side of Heaven and earth life consists of constant change. But where there is great loss the potential for gain is greater.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19.

In this present wilderness, as I’m stripped of my former self, there’s no guarantee of what the future holds or what I will become. But God promises to make a way. He promises water in the wasteland and I want to trust the day will come when a ‘new thing’ springs up. I‘ll no longer be consumed by the past but will have hope for the future.

No Lord, I don’t see it! Or perceive it. Not now.

Don’t let me give up. Help me to keep moving forward.

“He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5.

I surrender it all to You. Trustworthy and True One.

Make me new.

No Where Else To Go

IMG_0234I’ve spent a lot of time home alone with Jon the last fifteen years. But this ‘home alone’ is entirely new territory. Mike’s physical presence missing in this house is tangible. Knowing he will never walk through the door again is haunting. It’s just me and Jon now.

I have no idea what our future looks like without Mike here. We depended on him greatly. He was fiercely loyal, responsible, a get it done kind of guy you could lean on. It’s hard getting up in the morning and going to bed at night without him. The days ahead seem long and dismal.

Everyone around me tells me I’m doing good. I don’t know what they are seeing. Nothing seems good or right in this. I don’t feel ‘good’. The initial shock and numbness of Mike’s sudden death is wearing off and the reality of doing life alone, without him in it, is settling in heavily. I wear it constantly, like a thick coat in a hot desert place.

Yet in my constant sorrow, there is no struggle to trust God. So much I don’t understand but I have not once blamed Him for any of it. There’s no where else to go but to Him, so why would I push Him away? Why would I turn my back on Him? And knowing Mike is with Him gives me hope.

I proclaim as did the disciple Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life” John 6:68.

All the hard places in my life have taught me God can be trusted. This one is the highest level of learning so far. Leaning. Reaching. Longing for my Heavenly Father to fill me up with more of Himself. There’s no where else to go. But to Him.

So here I am Lord. The sun has risen again and I’m living another day you’ve given without my husband at my side. I surrender it to you. I surrender me to you. I surrender Jon to you.

I have no answers. So much I don’t know.

But of this I am certain: TODAY we are Yours.

What REALLY Matters

IMG_0572Mike’s first job was a newspaper route, trudging through snow, dodging rain, walking the streets where he and I lived as neighbors in upstate New York, As a kid, I remember seeing him walk past our house with a loaded newspaper sack over his shoulder, each paper removed quickly from the bag, efficiently folded into a tight missile and hurled from the sidewalk into doorways and onto front steps. He saved the money he made and bought a motorcycle, his first ride, when he was finally old enough to drive.

He never stopped working after that. When we were first married money was tight, as it is for most couples starting out. Mike took a second job delivering newspapers but now had me to assist. We’d get up at 3 AM every morning. Yawning and blurry eyed, I asked him “Why so early?” He replied, “I guess people like to read the paper with breakfast.”

He taught me how to fold a newspaper into a threefold locked and loaded missile and he’d fire them from the open window of our 1967 Chevy Impala into doorways and and onto front steps. He rarely missed.

Every employer Mike worked for through the years, moved him quickly into a management position. They saw the same diligence in him I did. My husband was always a hard worker and wise money manager. I never had to worry there wouldn’t be a roof over head, food on the table, a car to drive, clothes to wear.

If there was such a thing as a Proverbs 31 man, he fit the description perfectly. He was a Superman provider. He took care of everyone he loved, mostly at his own neglect.

I can’t stop thinking about how he left me several weeks ago. They handed me back his wedding ring and the few items in his pockets and took him away with nothing but the clothes on his back. Every material thing he worked for, our home furnished with craigslist.com bargain treasures, two cars in the driveway, a closet full of clothes, all of it, left behind. He took none of it with him.

There are moments in life that create a seismic shift in priorities and this is one of them. While I’m grateful for a home and the things needed to live on this planet, I’m acutely aware of what matters most.

Jesus summed it up in Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the midst of all his hard work, Mike loved his Heavenly Daddy fiercely and he cared deeply for people. His most recent sermon, preached several months ago, was titled, ‘People Matter,’ and many are now calling, writing or stopping to tell me how he touched their life. Everywhere we lived and everywhere he worked, he made a positive difference.

When the last breath leaves your lungs, when all is said and done, the only thing you take with you is the spirit God placed within you and the impact of the people your life has touched. If we are meant to invest in anything between birth and death, it is these.

If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, get one. Now! He has waited since eternity to love you. He wants you with Him when you leave here. So did Mike. So do I.

And every morning when you greet a new sunrise, be intentional in positively impacting every person who enters your day. Lift a life. Love them right where they are and show them they are valued.

Because in the end this is the conclusion of the matter.

This is the ONLY thing that counts.

The God Who Sees

tile-floorsI was on my hands and knees scrubbing the tile floor around the toilet for the fourth time in a week. Those of you who live with boys know they sometimes miss. Jon is not a boy. He’s a man. And he still misses, way too often for my liking.

As I applied bleach to the grout again, I sighed and breathed out loud, “I hope I can still get down here and do this when I’m 80,” and felt a sudden hopelessness roll over me.

Then I heard a still small voice in the depths of my soul.

“I see you.”

My Bible reading that morning had brought me to the story of Hagar. Hagar was the slave of Sarai, Abram’s wife, obtained in one of their detour trips to Egypt. Hagar came from a culture that worshiped multiple gods. The Egyptians had a god for everything, so Abraham’s god, on her list of imaginative deities, was probably added only to appease the old folks.

Hagar had no rights. She was a nobody. Her duty in life was to fulfill the wishes of another, and when barren Sarai grew tired of waiting for the son God had promised Abram, she did what was a common practice of their culture. Sarai sent Abram to sleep with her slave to claim a son through Hagar. Hagar was forced to become a surrogate mom.

Genesis 16:1-3 “Sarai, Abram’s wife, had no children, but she had a slave girl from Egypt named Hagar. Sarai said to Abram, “Look, the Lord has not allowed me to have children, so have sexual relations with my slave girl. If she has a child, maybe I can have my own family through her.” Abram did what Sarai said.”

When Hagar became pregnant she realized she now had an advantage over Sarai. Hagar got herself an attitude and who could blame her, really? What’s Sarai going to do to her now that she’s carrying Abram’s child? Someone who’s had no control over her own destiny finally had an edge. Eventually the relationship between the two women became so intolerable, Hagar ran away.

Genesis 6:7-12 finds Hagar beside a spring of water in the desert having a conversation with an angel of God. She was told to go back home and continue to serve Sarai. But God promised Hagar her son, would become a great nation also. He gave her hope.

Not one of Egypt’s gods had ever spoken to her. Not one of them cared enough to show up and reassure a despairing slave girl. But Abram’s God did. And she was amazed.

This God knew who she was. Where she was. And what she needed. This God had eyes to see her and ears to hear her. This God cared!

Then, “the slave girl gave a name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are ‘God who sees me,’” because she said to herself, “Have I really seen God who sees me?” Genesis 6:13

I realized that day on the floor that God sees me. He said as much.  And every time I get on the floor to scrub again, I am reassured He is pleased. What we determine to be small, insignificant, unseen and even annoying, matters greatly to God.

God sees you driving to work again, that counter you wiped, the laundry washed and folded, the dishwasher you load, the toilet scrubbed, another diaper changed, the gas tank you just filled and each time you help lift that person in and out of his wheelchair.

He sees the smile you brought to someone, the hug you gave, the ride you offered, the meal you cooked.

He sees how tired, desperate and broken you are.

It matters to Him. The unseen is important to Him. That thing done when no one watches. The mundane. The exhausting. The unappreciated. The irritating.

He sees it all and He knows.

Because my God is the God Who Sees!

And He’s your God too.

 

 

Merry Messy Christmas!

img_0047Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Not at our house. Jack Frost rarely nips at our nose (nor do we ever dream of a white Christmas), since we live in Florida. A few Yuletide carols may be sung by a choir at our Christmas service, but since Trinity is a non-traditional, contemporary church, even that’s debatable.

We will have a turkey this year, but no mistletoe and no tiny tots hanging around with their eyes all aglow. Just a Jon who gets up when he feels like it and takes five hours to open ten gifts.

According to this picture perfect Christmas song, our chances for a Merry Christmas are poor indeed. We score about one and a half out of five.

Are you feeling it right now because your Christmas isn’t Hollywood perfect? Cheer up, the first one wasn’t any better:

An unwed, teenage mother.
No baby shower, but plenty of rumors.
A disgraced marriage.
An annoying, inconvenient, tax-registering trip.
A baby born in a barn (with no nurse, diapers or cradle).
Scruffy shepherds as newborn visitors.
A jealous king sending out spies and assassins.
An emergency escape by night to another country.

The truth of Christmas is that God willingly jumped over-His-head-deep into the chaos of earth’s struggles. The First Christmas was so…human. It was scandalous. It was messy. It was so earthly, many passed right on by. And because His arrival seemed nondescript to most, people missed its significance. And still do.img_0048

If it’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you and a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade Christmas depiction is not happening where you are; happiness disregards you, money is tight, relationships stressed, someone deeply loved is gone and greatly missed, or possibly your only Christmas wish this year is for yourself or a sick loved one to heal, there’s no need to collapse in despair. No need to feel alone. No need to be paralyzed with fear.

Real life doesn’t stop for Christmas.

BUT!

Christmas came to invade every detail of our messy human existence and inundate whatever is occurring in our personal universe at the moment.

God came to us as one of us and He understands. He will walk with us through it all if we let Him. Stop, surrender and make room for Him this Season.

And have yourself a Very Merry Messy Christmas now!

“Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!”

 
Home For the Holidays – painting by Norman Rockwell, 1950
Christmas Cottage – painting by Thomas Kinkade, 1990                                                                         “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley, 1739

Jon’s Octopus

Basic CMYKJon was fourteen years old when we visited Catalina Island off the coast of California. Our friends, Earl and Pat, had moved to the island from Maine when Earl took the job of maintenance overseer for a large girl scout camp located there.

Summers at the beachfront camp were noisy and chaotic, with hundreds of girls and camp counselors arriving constantly in one to two week shifts. But winters were long, quiet and lonely; a good time to visit, and since we were homeschooling, the boys and I planned a six week stay during the winter of 1994.

From the day he arrived, Jon decided Earl (or Pa, as the boys and every other ‘grandchild’, related or not, called him) was going to take him fishing in the ocean.

“And I’m going to catch an octopus,” he declared to all of us.

“It’s really hard to catch an octopus Jon,” Pa told him, “they live way, way down, too deep in the water to get on your hook.”

But every day Jon kept insisting and reminding us, as soon as Pa took him fishing, he was going to catch an octopus.

We were there several weeks before Earl finally had a free day for fishing. They packed a lunch and eagerly climbed into the boat along with Jon’s younger brother, David, and a neighbor, Ken, the caretaker of the yacht club located a few miles down the beach.

Jon told Pa and Ken as they left the shore, “I’m going to catch an octopus now.” Ken replied with the same explanation Pa had given.

Everyone was trying to lessen the disappointment that was coming, in spite of Jon’s insistence.

They left in the morning and in late afternoon I heard Jon running up the beach to the house shouting, “Mom, Mom, I caught an octopus! Mom! I caught an octopus!”

I went outside to meet him. He was grinning from ear to ear. Jon has always had a huge and slightly quirky imagination so I figured he was fantasizing in his head again, pretending he had caught one because it’s what he’d wanted so much.

Earl met me halfway to the dock with a giant smile on his face. “Well, you’re never going to believe it, I still can’t, but Jon caught an octopus today.”

“You’re kidding.” I was stunned and delighted all at the same time. “I thought you said it was impossible?”

“I’ve been fishing in the ocean for years and never have I or anyone I know, caught an octopus. “ Earl looked as amazed as I felt.

Turns out they were a few miles off shore when Jon felt a tug on his line. He reeled it in and to everyone’s (but his) surprise there was a baby octopus clinging to the string.

Jon got his octopus!

That was twenty one years ago.

And I’ve never forgotten it.

When I read, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7), or “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), I’m reminded of a God who cares enough about a fourteen year old special needs kid to send a baby octopus from the depths of the ocean to his fishing line.

In the hard times, circumstances and struggles of life, when you feel as if God isn’t listening and He doesn’t care about you or the details of your situation…

..remember Jon and his octopus.

God knows.

He sees.

He understands.

He cares.

Keep believing for the impossible.

Keep trusting.

You never know what could be surfacing from the depths of despair, just for you.

A Taste of Things to Come

Mike was in a large, busy place when Jon emerged from the crowd and walked toward him.Mike & Jon

“Hi Dad.”

“Hi Son.”

They embraced, then sat and chatted for a while, reminiscing about Jon’s childhood, “Do you remember the time when..?”

They laughed at the memories.

“Yes, I remember,” Jon said. “I remember everything you’ve ever done for me. Thank you.”

“Why did you do some of the things you did, Jon? We were always just trying to help you. Why were you stubborn and so mean to mom and me sometimes?

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK, I forgive you. I’ve always forgiven you, because I’ve always loved you.”

“I know Dad. I know.”

Mike woke up suddenly, filled with joy in having had a real conversation with his son, at last.

But it was only a dream.

In sleep, our heart can reveal what it secretly longs for; the subconscious can give us a taste, a tease, of how it could be. Waking up can bring disappointment or offer us hope. Depends on what we choose to believe.

I believe such a conversation will take place some day, maybe not here on Earth, but when we’re all together on the other side of this life.

There’s nothing quite as reassuring as the hope of Heaven, where all things will be put right and all things will be made new.

Revelation 21:4-5 “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”…