Saturday, February 21, 2015

Purpose and a Plan

Over the last couple of months I have been using a devotional that goes through each of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in a year’s time – My Daily Scripture Devotional, God’s Wisdom for Today.  The Psalms have really met me where I am emotionally and have comforted and encouraged me. Tonight I was reading Psalm 31.  There were a few verses that caught my attention as being such a clear cry from a grieving heart.
“I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.” – Psalm 31:7-9

The author of the devotional for this chapter, Trevor Barton of Hawk Creek Church in London, Kentucky, shared, “When this is our reality, we can’t fix it or undo it.  In that moment the only thing to do is trust that God has a plan and a purpose for the pain; we must believe that He will work out all the bad for our good.  As David did, cry out for mercy and lean in closer to God.”

“God has a plan and a purpose for the pain.” – When I read these words, they stopped me in my tracks.  Since Scott’s death I have wondered what purpose could possibly come from his death and my heart and mind rebelled at the thought – it is hard to put a “price” on a life and that is essentially what we are asking when we ask about a purpose for a death.  I think what hit me when I read that sentence was a sense of truth and a need for a shift in my thinking. 

Purpose and change do not come from a death or a tragedy.  No, purpose and change come from the pain of the circumstances, not the actual circumstances themselves.   This is nothing new.  Over thousands and thousands of years, many people who have changed the world have made those choices out of pain that they themselves have suffered from loss or tragedy.  And over those same thousands and thousands of years God has provided comfort, a plan, and a purpose in the pain.  He is no different today than He was yesterday, a thousand years ago, or at the very beginning of time.  In reading David’s words in Psalm 31, it is clear that David suffered great pain, yet God brought purpose and change to David’s life because of the pain.  

Which mistakes are we most likely to not repeat?  The ones that have caused us the most pain.  Which mistakes are the ones most likely to change how we do things?  The ones that have caused us the most pain.  We learn our strongest lessons from pain.  No one wants to learn lessons through pain, but when you are in it and it is your reality that can’t be fixed or undone, then we must ask ourselves what God wants to teach us and what good He can bring out of this pain.  My deepest desire is to know what God is teaching us on this painful journey and what good He will bring from our deep pain.


Even though it has been two and a half years since Scott’s death, I am still sorting through his things little by little.  I have to say, by far the hardest things to sort through are all of his papers.  Seeing his handwriting is enough to bring all the emotions surging back to the surface.  For those who knew Scott well, you know that he wrote notes to himself on anything and everything he could find – empty envelopes, on the back of bills, edges of newspapers, etc.  He had a notoriously poor memory due to attention deficit disorder, thus the need to write everything down.  It is a painstaking process to read each and every piece of paper to make sure that I am not throwing away a gem of truth, a word of wisdom, or a funny story.  There are many notebooks of dreams and goals – and the research that went with them, notebooks of Bible study and spiritual truth, papers of names, addresses, etc.  Sometimes all mixed together in one notebook.  It is like getting an inside view into how his brain cataloged things.  These are the things that I have to sort through in small doses, otherwise the emotions can become overwhelming.

Last night I was going through a large zipped binder, in order to give Jaelyn some folders that were inside the binder for her to use for her school binder.  Most of what was in the binder was related to rental property stuff.  Disorganized was Scott’s middle name, although he tried hard to keep himself organized.  In that one binder I found a pay stub from 2005 and also one from 2011.  In that particular binder, those were the only things that have any ongoing sentimental value to us.  Yet it took me close to 45 minutes to get through everything that was in the binder, just for those 2-3 pieces of paper.

 I still have a very large expandable briefcase, stuffed full of papers, as well as at least 2-3 more boxes of notebooks and paperwork to sort through.   Every time I look at them or think about them I get overwhelmed.   See, the memories found in these papers are not always positive.  Since Scott wrote everything down, he often would “vent” on paper, similar to me, when we had a disagreement or were going through a rough patch.  Those moments are particularly difficult to relive, especially without him here to process through together.  Fortunately there have not been many of those found in the paperwork, but the one or two that I have found make it like walking through a landmine.  It is one thing to reflect back on the regrets that I have, of things I wish I had done differently, but quite another to see some of those regrets spelled out in black and white.  Hindsight is 20/20 and I refuse to live in those regrets, but to take them and learn from them moving forward, but this is sometimes a day by day (or hour by hour, or minute by minute) conscious decision.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Slow Deep Water

      Today was my Grandma Herr's funeral.  To be honest, I was dreading it.  Funerals have become extremely difficult since Scott's funeral.  Before the service began I had a chance to chat with my uncle about the healing I have seen in Jaelyn, as well as myself.  It is not an easy thing to talk about this as the tears come so easily still, especially when my emotions are so close to the surface.

      I shared with my uncle that one thing I have begun to realize over the last couple of weeks is that as I have seen the significant healing in Jaelyn, I almost feel as if my grieving is just beginning.  This certainly isn't completely true, but there has been such a huge part of me tune into and focused on Jaelyn and helping her to grieve and heal that there is a part of my grieving that hasn't begun until now.  I think that putting that into words today for the first time was a huge first step.  I have been pretty deliberate and conscious of facing grief head on, not avoiding the pain as it only comes back stronger if it is avoided the first time. I grow tired of the same emotions, the same battles, over and over.  The tedious, never-ending nature of grief can pull me down just as quickly, if not quicker, as the actual grief itself.  It is an exhausting journey and at times it is difficult to see the light shining through.

     I have been thinking a lot this afternoon and evening about a specific verse.  After the graveside service today, as we looked up, there was a bald eagle soaring overhead.  It was such an uplifting and fitting end to the service.  It brought to mind Isaiah 40:31 - "but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."  This past week, I have have heard the words, "wait on the Lord" over and over again in Scripture.  I'm not sure what "waiting on the Lord" is going to look like in concrete terms, but simply to trust and keep putting this journey back in His hands as it isn't mine to control and I have never truly been in control of it.  I'm learning that some things can't be forced. God has guided this grief journey so far and I see the change in my grief from the raging white water to slow, deep water.  If I try to rush this part of the journey, it will simply leave me exhausted and weak.  My prayer for myself is to wait on God, take in His beauty around me, find refreshment in Him and His beauty, and allow Him to set the speed.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Photobombing = Tears of Joy

I’m not sure how to put into words the thankfulness that I feel this Christmas.  I know, it is Christmas, not Thanksgiving, but I have many things to be thankful for, especially this year.  There were many moments this Christmas that I just wanted to sit down and cry.  The difference this year is that those moments were not primarily brought on by missing Scott.  No, this year those tearful moments were brought on by witnessing the immense healing that Jaelyn has gone through. 

Jaelyn was extremely excited for Christmas this year – playing Christmas music constantly – her ipod was never far from her.  It would have driven Scott crazy.  He was never a big fan of Christmas music, but tolerated it when I played it.  I love Christmas music, but tried to respect his feelings by not playing it constantly.  Jaelyn played it so constantly that I was actually getting a little bit tired of it.  I was amazed that one of her favorite Christmas songs this year is “Christmas in Heaven” by Sarah Schieber.  I also noticed that for the Candlelight service at church, Jaelyn chose to wear her Origami Owl necklace that she had created in memory of her daddy.  She talked about her daddy a lot this year.  It seems like she has become comfortable in remembering her daddy in her own way this year.    

I remember two years ago arguing and ultimately forcing her to take pictures with family.  She was in the picture, but by looking at her grumpy, non-smiling face, it was clear that she was not there willingly.   Last year I warned her ahead of time that she needed to be a part of family pictures with a good attitude.  She cooperated and even smiled.  But this year.  This year, oh my.  Anytime a camera was out, Jaelyn was in front of it or photo bombing someone else – with a huge smile on her face.  Everyone couldn’t help but notice the difference and commented on it privately either to me and/or among themselves.   Anytime I get my camera out or turn on the camera on my phone, she is jumping to get in front of the lens – although she does respect when I am taking scenery or nature shots.  I am loving the chance to do photo shoots with her, without having to “twist her arm” or bribe her to be in the shots!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Someone is Missing at Christmas

So, this is our third Christmas since Scott’s death.  I thought that each year would get easier.  In so many ways it is the opposite.  I didn’t expect it to be harder.  I still see things and think, “oh, Scott would like that” or “oh, that would be a good gift idea for Scott.”  I still avoid the men’s departments in stores as I cannot walk through or past them without thinking about clothing he would like or would have needed.  Scott rarely felt the need to buy clothing for himself.  I bought most of his clothing just so I wasn’t embarrassed by the condition of his clothing.  (He lived in t-shirts and shorts anywhere he could get away with it, and even some places that it wasn’t quite socially appropriate.) The holidays bring a heightened sense of loss as everything is about family and thinking of or doing things with your loved ones.

I think of my aunt, who is facing her first Christmas since my uncle’s death right after Christmas last year.   Christmas for her will look and feel so different this year.  It will be hard.  Facing all the firsts seemed never ending, but Christmas was one of the biggest first “hurdles.”  Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays are the obvious difficult days.  Then there are the random moments that catch you unexpectedly.  The holiday season is like walking through a minefield full of those random moments. It is expected that Christmas Day will be hard, but it is those unexpected moments of hearing certain songs, seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in a while who don’t quite know what to say or perhaps haven’t heard about your loss that hit just as hard and sometimes harder than the expected difficult moments.

Take a moment to think of those in your life that have lost someone – whether a miscarriage, loss of a child, spouse, parent, aunt/uncle, sibling, grandparent, or friend.  On the widow/widowers Facebook group that I belong to the common theme right now is ideas on how to remember the loved one who is no longer with us.  There have been many neat ideas from photo gifts, to Christmas trees decorated only in decorations that remind them of their loved ones – even having a party with guests bringing those special decorations for the tree, to buying one ornament each year in memory.  How can you honor the memory and help keep the memory alive for those who have lost someone?  I can tell you, talking about memories and knowing that that person is not forgotten is one of the best gifts that can be given at Christmas and any time of the year.  But at Christmas when so much is about family, instead of ignoring the hole in the family, take the time to remember them and talk about them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Matter of Perspective

I belong to a private Facebook group for widows/widowers with young (pre-teen) children.  There are men and women who are only a few days into their journey to those who are ten + years into their journey.  There are times when things are shared that stop me in my tracks and make me assess my own journey and perspective on things.  There were some things shared this week (I cannot share details due to the confidentiality of the group) that caused me to think about my perspective on Jaelyn and the effect of her daddy's death on her life.

 I don't want her to grow up seeing herself as different and somehow damaged due to losing her dad.  I want her to see the strength and faith that she has gained due to working through and understanding her grief.  I don't want her to go through life with a "pity me" attitude because her daddy died.  I want her to focus on who/what she still has -- mom, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who all love her very much -- and not on the one person she has lost.  This is not to say that I want her to forget her daddy and her loss -- I just don't want his loss to define her life or be the main focus of her life.

I realize that how she sees herself now and in the future falls to God, myself, and those who love her.  I pray that I never treat her as if she is somehow less than whole or fragile because of her daddy's death. I pray that pity and coddling never become part of my attitude toward her.  I pray to always recognize that her strength and faith can and will overcome anything and to always expect her strength and faith to rise up and prevail.

Why would I expect less of her because of her loss?  No, I expect more of her because of her loss.  God has given her strength and faith for a purpose.  I cannot wait to see how God uses in her life what she has learned on this journey.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trajectories of Tried Faith

I recently picked up a devotional book that I hadn’t looked at for about six months while I was using other devotionals.  Sometimes I get frustrated with myself for jumping back and forth between devotions without finishing a book.  However, I am coming to realize that God uses those changes to speak to me.  I began reading one of the devotions and it really struck me, then glanced at the next one and realized that it was an almost seamless continuation of the first one I read.

These devotions were written by Kathy Ferguson Litton who became a widow at the age of 45.  A friend told her “that because of my husband’s death my life would take an entirely new trajectory.  She said I would ‘begin to go places I would have never gone before, meet people I would have never known before, and understand things I would have never known before.’”   WOW – that has certainly been true for me.  When I think of all the new and precious friendships that God has brought into my life since and because of Scott’s death I am in awe of God providing encouragement and friendship when I needed it most.  I think of the many opportunities to share my story and my faith, opportunities to connect with people who are suffering, and opportunities to be a blessing to others.

It is so easy to think that with a loss of our magnitude that life is over, that the best is behind me, and that my life will always be clouded because of Scott’s death.  I am coming to realize that although I will always miss Scott and grieve his loss, God’s plans for my life did not end with his death and do not diminish Scott’s life and our love.  Where my God-directed trajectory will take me, I don’t know, but I do know that God’s plans are to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

“Knowing and receiving God’s comfort comes with a price.  The price is pouring that comfort out on others.  It is a calling, an obligation, a privilege, and a divine purpose in suffering. . .  The ‘why’ question was asked concerning the man born blind in John 9.  Jesus never seemed to give a satisfying answer to that inquiry but He did give his disciples the answer to the ‘to what end?’ question with this phrase: ‘that the works of God should be revealed in him.’ (John 9:3 NKJV)  One of the ‘works of God’ is a tried, undisputable faith in the midst of struggle.  What is a tried faith?  It is confidence in the goodness of God in the midst of circumstances that scream otherwise.”

Whatever my questions and grief over Scott’s death, I have never lost sight of or my confidence in the goodness of God.  My faith has been tried and is firm.  It is not something that can be easily explained given our circumstances nor is it my own strength.  Yet, I have seen His hand of provision and care.  He has taken care of EVERY need, including comfort and peace.  This is certainly not to say that I have not had moments of humanness, down moments, or sad moments, but when I keep my eyes on Him, He provides just what I need in that moment to keep moving forward. 

“God requires belief and trust in moments of human weakness, but faith is what makes us strong.  Faith is the state of being convinced about what we hope for.”  --

“Dear Father, on my trajectory of pain strengthen my faith so even a doubter can see Your reality in my life. Amen. “

Italics are excerpts from A Daily Women’s Devotional – pgs 96 & 97, daily devotionals written by Kathy Ferguson Litton