The Grief Process

Recently when chatting with a friend about her grief journey, I was reminded again how very differently each of us process grief. Some widows go through the stages quite systematically; others drift in and out of each stage many times. A few widows I’ve known pass through one stage quickly but take months, even years, to process a different stage. I believe, however, that most of us pass through grief spasmodically. We think we have processed our pain, but months later we realize we have not dealt with a certain phase quite as well as we thought.

DSC_0422.jpgThe stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—have been studied and written about for nearly four decades. Now David Kessler, an authority on grief, and famed psychiatrist Elizabeth Kuber-Ross are including a sixth stage—finding meaning—in their new book, which will be released this September. The book will share the benefits of remembering our spouse with more love than pain. I’m sure it will help us to understand the grief process more.

It’s important to continue learning about the ways grief affects us, but it’s also beneficial to share with other widows our grief journeys. This helps to solidify the progress we’ve made, and at the same time encourages other widows to be transparent about their challenges.

While I was taking courses on counseling about 10 years before my husband’s death, the professor told me that I had already been dealing with the grief process. He was right, although I had not realized it. At the time Tony was coping with end-stage renal disease. He lived longer than doctors thought possible, but the diagnosis was terminal.

After his death I was certain I was ready for the acceptance stage. He had been ill for many years; hadn’t I dealt with denial, anger, and bargaining? Now it was time to build a new life and forget the past pain. But I was wrong! A friend was honest enough to tell me that I had not dealt with many phases of Tony’s illness and death. We had been a young married couple with two children under age three when he becamDSC_0436.jpge sick, and his illness radically changed our present and our future. In many ways, I had denied my emotional pain while dealing with his physical challenges. This helped me survive all of those years of struggle, but now the pain had to be faced.

I had to deal with the deep disappointment of what could have been had Tony been healthy. Other widows must confront challenges they perceive only occurred because their husbands died young. One widow shared with me, “I stood at his gravesite years after his death and said, ‘I’m angry. This would not have happened if you had been here to help me.’”

Depression, considered the fourth stage of grief, is overwhelming for some widows. A sense of helplessness, emptiness, loneliness, and loss of control often accompany or define this phase. Life is meaningless; the bed is empty; the house seems too large. Cooking and then eating alone are grueling. A widow said, “I can’t eat by myself at a restaurant. Everyone is looking at me with pity.” This probably was not true, but this was how she felt, and those emotions are valid.

I can’t think of anyone who expresses grief better than the Psalmist David. He cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1). In Psalm 71, David tells us he had seen many bitter troubles. But David also declared, “He [God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm147:3).

This grief process is arduous, but God will see us through each stage regardless of the time it takes us to process every hurt, every disappointment, every angry feeling, every sorrow, or each lonely moment.

No One To Talk To

A widow friend shared with me yesterday that she desperately misses having conversations with her husband. I knew him as an intelligent man, who listened carefully to others and spoke with wisdom. So I could certainly understand her heartache. “Sharing with friends is good, but they are not always around,” she said. I agreed with her. Our husbands were companions with whom we could discuss ideas or air those “just thinking” moments that were even off the wall. We might get a raised eyebrow, a teasin630-01877515en_Masterfile.jpgg comment, or comical laugh, but they were listening even at the most inopportune moments.

My friends are fabulous; our conversations are uplifting, encouraging, insightful. I sincerely appreciate every one of them and don’t know what I would do without them. But I don’t make breakfast on Saturday morning in my pjs with them while we discuss the national news. I don’t invite them to my home, ask them to bring a book or a magazine to read while I also enjoy reading and just feel comfortable in their presence without a word passing between us. As much as we love and trust our friends, sometimes it’s not even appropriate to share personal family details or our children’s needs that we would have shared with our husbands.

I’m not sure I would describe this part of widowhood as loneliness, but it’s certainly a new state of being with different parameters, guidelines, and limitations. The adjustments seem to magnify our loss.

So what do we do? How do we compensate?

I know no other answer than to ask the Lord to fill those empty holes in our lives and help us to be content in this new state. This does not come overnight or without mistakes. Many years ago as a new widow, I expected too much from a friend and almost lost that relationship.

Talk to the Lord as a friend about everything. You don’t need to be concerned about framing your words properly or using just the right phrase. Tell Him if you’re angry or disappointed. Share with Him your questions, concerns, sadness, joys, and achievements. Then listen for His response, His answer, His still, small voice. He may guide you to a particular Scripture or bring to your mind one that you have memorized. This may sound crazy to you, but after going through an especially difficult time of struggle, I sensed the Holy Spirit saying, I’m proud of you. During a different challenging time, I sensed the Lord saying, Do you trust Me? The Lord does know how to speak to us.

I cannot explain how the God of the Universe can listen to each of us as we pour out our hearts to Him. But His abilities are beyond our comprehension. As Scripture teaches us, He is the all-powerful, all-knowing God, full of wisdom and understanding. He knows our needs even before we ask. Bringing our concerns to Him does not deplete or frustrate Him, or drain His energy. We honor Him though our constant conversations with Him.

I’ve been reminded lately of that wonderful Scripture in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your on understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

HAPPY MOTHER’S Day

This is my first Mother’s Day without a mother. Possibly the same is true for you, and you’ve been thinking about the life principles she taught you and how she influenced your thinking. Maybe you’re like one of my friends who said she sees her mother every time she looks in a mirror. That’s certainly true for me. Sometimes I’m amazed when my actions resemble hers. I wonder how that is possible since I did not live near her after my college days.

Both of my parents were strong Christians and taught my siblingScreen Shot 2019-05-11 at 12.07.21 PM.pngs and me the importance of God’s Word and the church. Both were musicians and gave us an appreciation for music. But my sisters and I agree that Mom gave us a love for cooking, nice clothes, flowers, and books. We miss her and still honor her in our thoughts. But since dementia marred her last few years, we are glad she is in heaven and completely well.

For some of you, this annual day of celebration may be difficult because your mother was abusive, emotionally or physically ill, or simply not a positive role model. You could never seemingly please her or sensed you were more of a burden than a joy. Her negative words instilled a sense of shame and worthlessness. Now as an adult, you find it difficult to think about honoring her. Even joining others to remember their mothers stirs up feelings of anger, guilt, isolation and sadness—feelings of I don’t belong at this celebration.

Although you have been greatly hurt, forgiveness toward your mother is essential. You do not have to pretend she was good or excuse her bad behavior, but for your emotional, mental, and spiritual health, forgiveness is the only way toward wholeness. Dr. Richard Dobbins, a Christian psychologist, said, “The forgiving process is like peeling an onion. The layers come off one at a time and you cry a lot.” This difficult task may take months, even years, but it’s worth the effort.

One widow friend has never had children; another friend’s only child died at birth; and another is experiencing the pain of both widowhood and estrangement from her children. While these precious women celebrate for others, Mother’s Day for them reminds them of unfulfilled dreams, disappointments, and regret. We muScreen Shot 2019-05-11 at 12.04.00 PM.pngst acknowledge that this day does not bring joy for everyone.

Whatever Mother’s Day represents for you—whether you feel honored or neglected, remember that God looks at you as His child, and He has always had a good plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). You are accepted and treasured, not because you are beautiful, wealthy, brilliant, or talented, and not even because you are a mother. You are valued because you are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). You are blessed, chosen, and adopted into His family through the death and resurrection of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-9).

May this Mother’s Day bring you joy in knowing that God loves you and that you are His treasure (I John 3:1a).

 

Spring Musings

This past Saturday morning I heard what seemed like something tapping on the side of my home. I soon discovered that a major building project was in progress. The robins were making a nest over the lamp at my back door. The bird’s wings and feet generated the noise as the female carefully constructed a round nest of twigs, mud, grasses and even pieces of cloth and string to prepare for the eggs.

The robins have chosen the protection of the eaves of my home and warmth of the light for two years. When I examined last year’s project after the birds left, I realized how amazing it was. Where did the robins get a blueprint for the intricate project? Who taught the birds how to construct the nest? Where did they find the pieces of string and small cloth strips that protected the eggs from the sharp edges of the twigs?

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 6.11.59 PMOf course, the Internet had some interesting information. I learned that, although the male robin helps to collect the materials, the female robin weaves together most of the 350 twigs and grasses that are about 6 inches long. These are held together with hundreds of beakfuls of mud. What a construction project! The birds did not attend college classes on architecture. They can’t read a blueprint or write a “how to” manual for the next generation of robins either. I knew that only our Creator God gave the birds this instinctive ability.

I was reminded of two Scriptures as I thought about the birds’ project. The one is very familiar. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). At Creation, God gave those small robins unique construction abilities and the capacity to know the right place to build. Why? Simply because He created them and cares for them. We too are God’s creation, and His care for us as widows far exceeds His concern for the robins. If He provides food and a place of shelter and safety for them, certainly He will do that for us.

The second Scripture is from Hebrews. The writer quoted Jeremiah when he said, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” (Hebrews 10:16 and Jeremiah 31:33). Jeremiah was saying that a day would be coming when God’s laws would not simply be written on a stone or a scroll, but God’s Word would be within us. The unknown writer of Hebrews is telling us that the day has arrived. Through accepting Christ as our Savior and then developing a relationship with God through His Word, the Holy Spirit can speak to us.

Right now you’re probably thinking, How do those Scriptures have anything to do with the birds? Well, I believe God’s Word can be in us as instinctive as the robins innately build their nests. If we study and memorize God’s Word, the Holy Spirit can bring to our minds those promises that God has given us. When we face difficulties—andScreen Shot 2019-04-01 at 6.24.58 PM as widows we face many, Scriptures that give us direction, strength, help, wisdom, courage, and even protection will come to our minds to replace fear, worry, doubt, and anxiety.

When we see birds’ nests this year, I hope we can remember God’s great care and how much He desires to meet our needs. May we desire to know God’s Word and claim His promises to carry us through our challenging days.

A Look at God’s Promises Through the Christmas Story

Since all of us are finite humans, we can never say we’ve always kept our word. I’ve failed many times to keep a promise because I simply forgot. I have committed to pray, to pass on a message, or to help with a project, and I had good intentions, but I failed. It’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve let down a friend or family member. We learn in God’s Word that God is very different from us: He always keeps His promises.

Luke 1:37, which is part of the Christmas story, is a very powerful verse. As a child hearinge7e359aaa679f83a418ef27e2d302e99--religious-photos-angel-delight the King James Version of the Bible, I learned “For nothing is impossible with God.” One of the more modern translations says, “For no word from God will ever fail” (NIV). All we need to do is to look at the historical record to prove that this is true concerning the birth of Christ.

The account begins in Genesis 49 with Jacob blessing his sons. Verse 10 says, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs.” Matthew 1 traces the lineage of Jesus from Abraham to Jacob and then to Judah, Jacob’s fourth son.

About 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophecied, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26-37 tell us that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived.

Jeremiah prophecied that the Messiah would come from the line of David. “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). Once again we look to Matthew 1 and realize that Jesus’ lineage is traced through David.

Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times” (Micah 5:2). Because of Caesar Augustus’ taxation decree, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, to comply with the law. Jesus was born while they were there. Even the chief priests and teachers of the Old Testament Law recognized that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6). The Wise Men traveled there and found the Christ Child.

Scholars have calculated that God’s Word has between 3,000 and 6,000 promises. Some of those apply to us as widows. I especially like Isaiah 54:4-5: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name.” Many times I’ve said, Lord, You are my husband and I need You to take care of this. His answers may not come as quickly as I think they should, but HE is a good husband to me, listening when I cry for help or wisdom and caring for my needs.

If God gave specific promises for the birth of Christ and then fulfilled them, certainly we can count on Him to fulfill His promises to us as widows.

Happy Reformation Day

Much of our world has forgotten that today – October 31 – commemorates a significant event for those of us who are Protestants. Five hundred and one years ago (1517), a courageous Martin Luther nailed a document – his 95 Theses – on th20131031-234333e castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. His declaration began the debate that would become the Protestant Reformation.

As Luther, a former law student tuned monk, studied Scripture, he realized the Church had strayed from the teachings of the Bible. He did not intend to divide the Roman Church. He simply wanted leaders to return to the authority of Scripture. Through greed, arrogance, and church corruption, church leaders had substituted God’s inerrant Word for man’s ideas, doctrines, and decrees. People had been led to believe that good works and giving to the Church could secure their and their loved ones’ eternal destinies. Luther, however, rediscovered a basic principle found in both the Old and New Testaments: “… the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). (See other Scriptures below.) Finally he was forced to choose the gospel over man’s laws and was excommunicated from the Church in 1721.

Luther realized that the common person – not just the priests – needed to know God’s Word. He translated the Latin Scriptures into German so that any literate person could study the Bible for himself. Many people, however, could not read, so Luther and several of his followers wrote hymns to teach God’s Word. These paraphrased the Psalms, taught doctrine, and celebrated special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Luther loved to sing and introduced congregational singing as part of worship, and the first Reformed hymnal was produced in 1529.

Today we look back on those days in the 16th century with great joy as we realize that Luther and many others paved the way and sacrificed much so that we can enjoy reading Scripture and worshiping in our own language.images

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And he (Abraham) believed the Lord, and he (God) counted it to him as righteousness (Gen.25:6).

…but the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

 

 

Labor Day Musings

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 12.11.58 AMAmericans have been celebrating Labor Day for 124 years, but much has changed since the holiday’s inception. In 1894 the average American laborer was male. Today 47% of the U.S. labor force is female. Although I have no statistics to support my supposition, I would suspect that a good percentage of that number is widowed since the average age of widows is 55. And, believe it or not, 75% of women will be widowed by that age. Amazing!

Our young widows with children especially need a day of rest since they are overworked. She is responsible for being mother and father; caring for all the household and family chores; being the breadwinner and financial planner; and bearing all the family emotional burdens. Add all of this to a 40-hour workweek, and fatigue becomes a daily companion. The young widow certainly needs our help and prayer for strength and endurance.

A positive change since the late 1800s is that widows today have more expendable income. Even 60 years ago, 30% of widows in the United States lived in poverty, as compared to about 10% of married couples. By 1990, that number dropped to 20%. Because of the increase in women’s education and women in the workforce, about 13%-15% of widows live in poverty today. Researchers predict that this number will continue to decrease, as women are less dependent on their husbands’ incomes.

I am grateful to live in the United States and have the privilege of working. About 50% percent of widows live in poverty in other parts of the world. While our lives are not easy, we have much for which to be grateful.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is found in 2 Kings 4:1-7. A widow tells the prophet Elisha that she has no money and her two sons are about to be sold into slavery. He says, “What do you have in your house?”

“Only a little oil,” she responds.

He instructed her to ask her neighbors for lots of empty jars. “Go in your house, shut the door, and begin pouring the oil into the jars,” he said. The oil did not stop flowing until every jar was full. “Go,” he said. “Sell the oil, pay your bills, and you will have enough left over to live on.”

What a miracle provision! I think of my work as God’s miraculous provision. He is, as the Old Testament says, Jehovah Jireh–my Provider. I believe that what God did for that Old Testament widow in poverty and what He has done for me, He will do for you.

A Tribute to Mom

My sisters and I have often talked about the blessing our mother has been to us. Our

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Mom surrounded by three of her four daughters: Rachel (top), Ruth (left), Miriam (right); other siblings include Dan, Russ and Lois

home was, of course, not perfect, and we have talked about that too, but Mom was a great mother. She instilled in us a love for the Lord, His Word, and the importance of being part of a fellowship of believers. She knew what she believed and why.

As a pianist and organist, music was significant to her. She was so busy caring for the six of us that her musical talents were dormant for many years. I’m sad to admit that I was an adult before I realized the depth of her musical gifts. She was the church organist, but she knew and played popular music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. On one of my visits when she was about 85 years old, she was tackling a simple version of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. So her desire to learn was strong.

Mom was a creative cook, and her meals were always delicious. Because she shared her culinary skills, my sisters and I, and even one of my brothers, are very much at home working and creating in our own kitchens. As kids, we said Mom knew 101 ways to prepare hamburger to stretch the budget.

She was raised as an only child in a quiet home. Living with the noise of six children in a small house with only one bathroom must have been difficult. I remember her saying: “I wish I could take a bath just once without one of you kids needing to go to the bathroom.” Her sacrificial love was evident every day.

That skillful, strong, intelligent mother is gone from us. She no longer cooks, plays the piano, or studies her Bible. She doesn’t remember that she was the first female board member of our church, which was extremely significant 40 years ago, or that she and my dad had a thriving business. Today she is frail and has only brief moments of recognizing my sister, Rachel, who sees her every day at the care facility and cares for many of her needs. We long for heaven to claim her, to free her from her limited body and mind. I’m glad she taught us that this world is not our final home and that the joys of heaven include no more sickness, tears, sadness, or dying.

I love you, Mom! I honor you and thank you for who you have been and for your sacrificial love to all of us. Happy Mother’s Day.

A New Year’s Resolution

It’s hard to believe we are beginning the fourth week of 2018. If statistics are correct, about half of us made one or more New Year’s resolutions, and some of us have already given up on the possibility of achieving that goal. A Forbes report noted that only 8% of people making resolutions actually accomplish their desired results by the end of the year.

Although I want to exercise more, take vitamins more regularly, and make healthy eating choices, I decided to make a different type of a resolution this year. I would like to look back on 2018 and be able to say that I’ve become a more grateful, thankful person. As I’ve tumbled into bed at night the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to include thanking the Lord for things that I often take for granted: a warm home, a comfortable bed, clean sheets, and cozy blankets. I hope throughout the year to make thankfulness part of my daily living, but I’m sure it will take work and deliberate thinking.

As widows, it’s so easy to think about what we’ve lost or what we no longer have. Earlier this week, a couple in front of me exchanged a loving glance as the man put his arm around his wife. I smiled and thought, Now wouldn’t that be nice? I would assume these kinds of thoughts will always be part of widows’ lives. It’s part of acknowledging our losses, and we are normal human beings who desire loving touches. During 2018, I hope to include grateful thoughts for the privilege of seeing loving couples.

For the past several years, I’ve asked the Lord in December to lead me to a Scripture to govern the coming new year. A couple of passages have been significant guides as circumstances developed during those years. This year I’ve chosen Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In meditating on this Scripture, I realized that joy and peace do not come from my circumstances, possessions, family, or friends. God is the Source. My responsibility is to trust Him in each circumstance. Joy and peace then generate abundant hope, which comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you can join me this year on my journey in thankfulness. May He fill all of us with joy, peace, and hope.

Journeys

For most of us, the holidays seem to turn our thoughts to childhood memories of family and past Thanksgivings and Christmastimes. Since part of my afternoon was spent getting the car serviced, my mind drifted back to  great Aunt Helen (Grandmother’s sister) and her husband, Bill, who would come in a small, shiny, black coup to Grandma’s for the holidays. I was about 4 years old and was sure they were rich. Of course, I did not know then that the car was possibly 10-15 years old.DSC_0964

Cars fascinated me because neither my parents nor grandparents owned one. When Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill left to go home, I would squeeze into the back seat and ride to the end of the block where they would drop me off. I can even remember the happy feeling of walking back to the house.

The first car I remember my dad purchasing was an old forest green Studebaker that I’m not sure was very reliable. Several weeks before my 9th birthday, I committed my life to Christ in that old car as my parents and two other adults talked about the Second Coming of Christ while we traveled to church. That decision has impacted my entire life.

I look back1941-studebaker-champion-dsf with nostalgia and gratefulness on those days, but those old cars did not travel fast and were not nearly as comfortable as today’s models. Imagine with me the slow, laborious traveling during Christ’s time here on earth.

Mary was on a donkey, not in a nice SUV, as she and Joseph traveled the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. You and I could easily make that journey in about an hour and a half on an Interstate. For Mary and Joseph, the trip could have taken as many as nine or ten days. Besides unpaved and hilly roads and harsh weather, the area was known for robbers and wild animals. It must have been terribly uncomfortable for Mary who was in her last month of pregnancy.

In reading the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we have a detailed account of those days (Matthew 1-2; 2 Luke 2). Luke tells us that the couple went from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken. He describes Jesus’ birth, the glorious angel choir, and the shepherds. Matthew recounts the travels of the Wisemen and Herod’s killing spree in his attempt to destroy the Christ Child. When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph journeyed to Jerusalem where they presented Him “to the Lord as it is written in the Law” (Luke 2:22-24), which was another day’s journey. Then Matthew includes the family’s escape to Egypt, a trek of more than 600 miles. That must have been a very laborious trip with a young baby. Finally they travel back to Israel and settled in Nazareth.

As we travel to and fro this holiday season, may we be reminded of the greatest trip ever taken–when Jesus left heaven and took on the form of man. John’s gospel says, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:14). His birth, death, and resurrection made it possible for us to be forgiven and to be transported one day from this earth to heaven. What a great journey that will be!