Thoughts for 2017

Now that the Christmas tree and decorations have been packed away, I’ve been reflecting on 2016 with its happy times, challenges, surprises, and disappointments. Times with friends have been exceptional, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the blogging and website process. I truimagesst the “bumps in the road” have changed me, just as they were supposed to.

So here we are at the beginning of 2017. We have no idea what the weeks and months will hold, but we know there will be changes, whether we like it or not. I have my usual resolutions: exercise more regularly, cut out sugar, and drink more water. I’m doing well so far. Maybe I’ll be able to report in December that those goals were accomplished and have become good habits. Researchers report that only about 8% of us will keep our resolutions, so I’ll see how well I do.

What’s on your heart to do – to accomplish – in 2017? As widows, we have a tendency to just let life happen – to not set goals or make plans beyond trying to be more physically accountable for our eating and exercising. Sometimes we even have a “who cares” attitude, or life gets so busy that we don’t have time for personal enrichment.

I’d like to challenge you to dream a little. Set aside some time to think about doing something you’ve always wanted to do. Pray about it. You don’t have to be 60 years old to make a “bucket list.” I have a friend who had always wanted to sky dive. Now I wouldn’t do that, as they say, for “all the tea in China.” DSC_1499.jpgBut about 20 of us gathered on a cloudless day last summer to watch the event. She was smiling from ear to ear. Traveling is more my style, and my dream list seems to grow each year. I may never take some of those trips, but even thinking about them brightens my day.

I’d also like to challenge you to include spiritual, emotional, and mental goals. Would you like to read the Bible through in a year? That can be accomplished one day at a time, and lots of yearly Bible-reading guides are available online. Podcasts, seminars, and even college courses are now available online to help us grow mentally.

My Bible reading today included Proverbs 2:6 (NIV): “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” The Message Bible, a more modern translation, says, “God gives out wisdom free, is plainspoken in knowledge and understanding. He’s a rich mine of common sense for those who live well.” WOW!!!! I’m glad that we, as widows, have a free source for wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and common sense. We will need it in 2017.

The Widows of Matthew 1 and Luke 2

This is a mini-Bible study and different from a usual blog. I hope it will encourage you to believe that God has a plan and purpose for your life, despite your feelings of loss, discouragement, and sense of insignificance, especially during this time of the year. You are not forgotten!

Did you know that widows played an important role in Christ’s birth? Since it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born through Davi16924089-christmas-background-isaiah-9-6d’s seed (Isaiah 9:6-7), Matthew’s Gospel traces Christ’s lineage through Jesus’ earthly father Joseph, who was of the house of David (Luke 1:26). He includes the names of four women –Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Three of these women were widows. Each has her own story of love and loss, pain and disappointment, and restoration and redemption.

Tamar’s story in Genesis 38 is full of intrigue, deception, and cultural expectations that I, as a westerner, have difficulty understanding. Even God’s dealing with her two husbands is hard to explain. After being widowed twice, she had twin boys, Perez and Zerah, through her father-in-law. In Matthew 1:3, Perez is listed as an ancestor of King David.

Rahab (Joshua 2), as far as we know, was not a widow, but she serves as a great example of a person whom God redeems and then honors. Through her marriage to Salmon, she too becomes an ancestor of King David (Matthew 1:5).

Ruth’s life is chronicled in the Old Testament book by her name. It’s a wonderful story of lost love, God’s provision, and new love. After loosing her husband, Ruth moves with her mother-in-law, also a widow, to Bethlehem. To earn a living, she becomes a day worker in the fields, and there meets and marries Boaz. Their son, Obed, was the grandfather of King David (Matthew 1:5) and therefore an ancestor of Christ.

Most of us know Bathsheba’s story of infidelity with King David (2 Samuel 11-12). In Matthew’s Gospel, she is not listed by name, but is recorded as Uriah’s wife, a widow. After her husband’s death, she marries David and gives birth to a son who dies. Her second son, Solomon, became king after David, and was thus in the earthly lineage of Christ.

Luke’s Gospel also includes a widow in his recounting of the birth of Christ. Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the temple “to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). Anna, a widow who was also a prophetess, was there too (2:36-38). She spoke to Mary and Joseph and declared that Jesus was the longed-for Messiah.

The women in Matthew 1 were far from perfect, and after reading their stories, we may even wonder how and why God chose them for such a significant role. We may not have the importance of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, or even as Anna who lived a righteous life. But God has place for you that only YOU, as a widow, can fulfill. Not one of these widows knew that she would be an ancestor of Christ, or as Anna, would be able to witness the birth of the Messiah. None of us know the future, but our lives can have renewed meaning and significance as we follow God’s path each day because GOD HAS A PLAN.

Holiday Blues

We’ve seen little of the sun in more than a week–no natural vitamin D to lift our spirits. This is typical November weather. The gray skies with wind and drizzle seem to match most widows’ moods at some time during the holiday season. The good memories of past holidays seem so distant.img_0311

Sometimes it’s easy to ignore or suppress the emptiness during busy holidays, but thoughts of loneliness seem to multiply after we tumble into bed. For the most part, we don’t complain about shopping and decorating alone. It’s simply part of our single-again world, but there’s a longing that we can’t ignore when we see couples enjoying holiday tasks. We simply wish our spouses were with us to share the joy of the season.

Celebrating with family and friends is enjoyable, but the family dynamics have been forever changed. There’s a nagging sense that someone, something is missing. Even the empty chair next to us at the office or church Christmas party, where the tables are set for eight, is a glaring reminder of our loss. So, how do we successfully navigate this difficult season?

We must refuse self-pity, be grateful for good memories, and even determine to keep some of the old traditions. My husband enjoyed good–even expensive–cheese during the holiday season. So DSC_0758.jpglast week, I bought a box of crackers and small hunk of cheese that I would not normally buy. With each bite, I remembered those wonderful Christmas Eves when we were together.

Share your memories–especially times of laughter–with family and friends. I’ll never forget the Christmas morning the children came running into the bedroom and jumped on the bed. The old headboard broke, causing the mattress and box springs supports also to break. It was quite a jolt, but we laughed and then had fun the next day buying a new bed.

This also is the season to show special gratitude to those who helped us through the first difficult weeks. You don’t have to be rich to give neighbors some homemade treats with a note of thanks. Inviting friends or neighbors for brunch is always fun and will help ease the loneliness. You have permission to enjoy this holiday season!

Most important, don’t forget the reason for the season–the birth of Jesus Christ. We have hope of eternal life because He willingly left heaven, was born as a man, then suffered and died, and was resurrected. Listen to the carols, read the Scriptures surrounding Christ’s birth (Matthew 1 and 2; Luke 1 and 2), and attend Christmas services.

We cannot change the fact that we are now alone, but we can refuse to feel sorry for ourselves and choose to bless others during this holiday season.

HOPE in Turbulent Times

A research institute recently reported that we, as Americans are “an increasingly dour and divided bunch…more suspicious, pessimistic, and convinced that the government does not pay attention to [us].” Another report says,“72 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. is still in recession.” An August 2014 article in the Washington Post reported, “When asked if ‘life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,’ fully 76 percent said they do not have such confidence.” How screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-9-53-31-pmdiscouraging! And the daily news only seems to add to the discouraging outlook.

With this turbulent political season, it seems that we slip further into a dismal hole of despair as we hear accusations of lewd language, infidelity, lying, and criminal activity. We may wonder if anything good is happening. Are there still honest, trustworthy people in our nation? For several weeks I have interacted with some young adults who I believe represent the best of the next generation, and I have HOPE.

About two months ago, I decided to audit a course at the seminary where I graduated. The study has been good, and I’ve learned a lot, but my fellow students, all of whom are a couple of decades younger than I, have given me much to think about. We are an eclectic group of men and women, married and single. (I’m the only widow.) Some are young parents; others are newly married with no children. A couple young men are still in the Army and have missed classes for military responsibilities.

From their comments, it’s obvious to me that they love their families, are intelligent and quick witted, care about people and the direction of our nation, and want to make a difference in this world. They are not in the streets wrecking cars, vandalizing businesses, and taunting police. They are quietly, but with determined purpose, fulfilling their roles as friends, spouses, parents, and students, preparing to lead the next generation with integrity. You see, their hope—and mine—comes from the Lord who gives us hope for today and for tomorrow.

Several weeks ago, everyone in class—in fact everyone in the seminary—was given a bracelet with I Thessalonians 5:17 inscribed: “Pray continually.” The accompanying guide included daily directions for prayer needs. This was student initiated. With young adults like this, how could I not help but have HOPE? These young adults have shown me that not everyone in this world wears a deceptive mask of deceit and duplicity.

Toward the end of his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul said, “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” (Romans 15:13).

As widows, we often feel alone in stressful times, but I trust that you too have positive influences that bring hope—good friends, children and young and older adults—with whom you can share. And may God fill you with HOPE today.

A Trust Issue

Hello, dear friends. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of sharing my thoughts and feelings about a variety of subjects that directly affect us as widows. What a privilege!

As I write today, we are anticipating this evening’s first presidential debate. The subject of trust has been a key component throughout these months of interviews and personal appearances. Both candidates have said that the other one can’t be trusted for various reasons, and we wonder if we can believe anyone.

Our ability to trust others began in infancy when we were completely dependent on our parents for every need. That learning process continued through our teen years and into adulthood. We may not have realized it, but the dating process was part of learning to trust that other person. Then trust grew into love. Some women say they knew they loved their husbands the first time they met them. I know that’s possible, but for me, love was a growth process that included an aspect of trust.

As widows, it’s hard to know who to trust these days. I learned quickly after my husband’s death that all business people couldn’t be trusted. It was a hard lesson that even cost money and made me suspicious of the person who touts his/her trustworthiness. I learned a few simple things in this process that have helped me in business dealings.

Be cautious of the person who insists the project must be done NOW. When anyone tries to rush you in making a decision–whether it is a car salesman or an exterminator–step back, get another opinion, and ask for advice from a trusted friend. The owner of the company that removed a termite-infested tree shortly after Tony’s death pegged me as a vulnerable widow, and I trusted his expertise too quickly. I knew those termites were only in the tree and could eventually get in my home, but it was not true that very soon they would be in my house causing mass destruction. There would have been plenty of time for me to get several other opinions. Last week when someone tried to push me into a purchase, I simply smiled and said, “Thank you,” and walked away. I guess we sometimes learn the hard way.

Be wary of the person who offers to fix something inexpensively. I’ve fallen into this trap more than once since I’m a penny pincher, and I’ve learned that the cheapest option may not be the best. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. In fact, write out your questions and check them off as they are answered. Ask if the person is bonded, about the quality of materials being used, and how long the project will take. A well-defined contract is also essential.

I’ve learned that God is concerned about my everyday decisions, and nothing is too small to ask for His help. Sometimes I learn months later that He protected me when I sensed to  decline a purchase or a certain repairman.

For me, God’s Word is essential when seeking guidance. I’m grateful for Solomon’s wise advice: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

We Remember

As women, we have memories of incidents with our husbands that bring us great joy: what we wore on that first date or the night he proposed, those small gifts or a single rose during courtship that demonstrated his love, and the small details of wedding planning. The memories are endless as we reflect on those first years of marriage, the birth of our children and all their special events, and the life we shared.

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All of us who experienced the tragedy of September 11, 2001, also will never forget the images of the destruction of the Twin Towers, the damaged Pentagon, and the disaster near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The day is forever etched in our memories. We wonder how this could have happened in the United States and what deep-seated hate of humankind could drive a person to participate in such an atrocity.

I remember how beautifully blue the sky looked as I drove from work that day. My co-workers and I were sent home since we were uncertain if other attacks were in process. I quickly bought a few essentials and gas from a nearby Walmart and went home to an empty house. I had been a widow for four years and was accustomed to being alone. But I remember sensing a loss that was hard to explain. I felt the sting of not having anyone with whom to share my sorrow and fear, and I remember the awareness that everything had come to a screeching halt. I live a few miles from an airport and since all air traffic stopped, the familiar sounds of incoming and outgoing planes had ceased. The silence was eerie.

Although we will never forget that experience, we want to remember to pray today for those whose lives were forever changed, especially for the hundreds of women who became widows and single mothers on 9-11. Their sense of loss is possibly greater because it’s linked to a national crisis, and the photos are so real that it seems as if the carnage happened yesterday.

We may not be able to personally comfort those who experienced loss on 9-11, but as we reflect on this great tragedy, may we not forget to reach out to that woman in our neighborhood who suffers the pain of losing life’s companion.

A Personal Knowledge

The young man acknowledged my presence with the nod of his head and a soft “hello” as I maneuvered into the seat beside him. We waited about 20 minutes to begin our journey from Providence, RI, to Chicago, and I sensed that he was preoccupied and did not want to talk. Finally we were on our way and waiting on a runway. Then as the plane accelerated, we heard strange noises. The young man looked at me with obvious alarm. I’m sure my eyes were as wide as his. “What was that?” he said. We did not return to the gate and the captain said nothing, so we breathed a sigh of relief and assumed that everything was okay. Then we began to talk.

I knew two things about him before he told me about himself: He liked Starbucks (He was carrying a Starbucks mug.); and he was a musician. I had observed him earlier carrying a viola with a well-worn cover over what I thought might be an expensive instrument. He told me his home base, the orchestra he was part of, and that he had been performing in New England.

I asked, “Have you ever played at Tanglewood.” (This is the summer home of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and my husband and I had been privileged to be there several times.)

“Oh yes,” he replied. “Twice.”

With great joy and emphasis I said, “I heard Yo Yo Ma at Tanglewood!”

“I had dinner with Yo Yo Ma,” he replied. I was impressed for sure!

Since our conversation a few weeks ago, I’ve often thought about the difference between the young man and me. My knowledge of Yo Yo Ma, the great cellist, is not personal. I only know him through listening to his music. Even at Tanglewood, I could only hear his music. I was with the crowd outside the pavilion who could not even see the great performer’s face. This young man actually spent time with Yo Yo Ma and talked to him face to face. His interaction was intimate, and his communication was personal.

I may never personally know a famous person on this planet, but I do want to know God personally and intimately. For that to happen, I need to spend time in His presence. I will not see Him until I reach heaven, but through His Word, I learn who He is and the depth of His love for me – a love that was so unfathomable that He sent His Son to this earth so that I might have eternal life. It’s though His Word that I gain wisdom and direction. Through prayer, I communicate as friend to friend. I tell Him my deepest concerns, and I know He hears every word.

As widows, we need a friend on whom we can depend – one we can speak with anytime, anywhere when the storms of life seem overwhelming. I can’t ask Yo Yo Ma to help me. I don’t know him. But I can ask God, and He has promised to “meet all my need according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And He has promised to be with me always (Matthew 28:20).

Our Amazing Limbic System

During this past week, I’ve listened to part of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The book has helped me to more fully understand the grief process that we, as widows, go through and why we have recurring memory flashes. The chapter I’m now on describes the limbic system in our brains. This set or collection of structures contributes to our emotional life and is significant in the formation of our memories.

I now realize that we miss our mates’ touch, smell, sight, sound, and presence because all of this was recorded in the limbic systems of our brains. For instance, although I was in another part of the house, I knew when my husband opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen even before he hollered, “I’m home.” The way he opened the door and that first step was recorded in the limbic system of my brain during those first weeks of marriage. Several years after my husband’s death, I looked at the man walking in front of me and almost gasped. His walk was the same as my husbands’. Those strides had been recorded in my memory decades before.

Our limbic system is an emotional center. As widows, we do not have the same emotional support we once had, making it more probable that we experience increased stress during difficult times such as those in which we are living. In the past during times of danger, sorrow, and pain, our husbands’ touch and words were recorded in the limbic system of our brains as an emotional sense of comfort, strength, and well being. We now have a sense of loss when facing a challenging situation.

As we face these desperate days of economic uncertainty and national insecurity, we want that hand to hold and comforting words. Since our husbands are no longer with us, we need alternatives. As strange as it might seem to you, the first step is to make God your new husband. Consult Him about everything: employment, friendships, children, purchases, problems, health needs, and finances. He is quite capable of giving expert direction and wisdom.

I usually sense something is right or wrong through the peace I have or don’t have in a given situation. Last summer my refrigerator broke. I found just what I wanted at a great price in one store and purchased it. The refrigerator would be delivered in a couple days. Overnight I began to have second thoughts and sensed the bargain was not right. When I checked the reviews, I learned that those refrigerators rusted within a couple of months. It was God who gave me that sense that something was wrong.

As widows we can take great comfort in Psalm 68:5 where God is described as a “father of the fatherless and protector of widows,” and in Isaiah 54:5 where He promises, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name.” He promised everyone, which includes widows, to be a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

We also can establish friendships with other women with whom we can discuss our concerns and pray. Dr. Amen wrote in the same chapter about ending the “ANTs” in our lives – Automatic Negative Thoughts – that cause stress, rob us of sleep, and give us a sour disposition. He also spoke of practicing the discipline of gratefulness, which actually helps to heal the limbic system. He suggests that every morning we make a list of five things for which we are grateful.

These are difficult days to be alone, but with God’s help and the help of dear friends and family, we will make it through.

The Price of Freedom

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Five summers ago, my then 12-year-old grandson Daniel and I took a road trip East. We visited Washington, D.C., with my sister and walked the National Mall, seeing the Lincoln and Washington Monuments. About dusk, we came to an open area with a large pavilion with a  sign saying, “President’s Own U.S. Marine Band in Concert at 8 p.m.” People were just beginning to gather, and we found perfect seats on a concrete ledge. The delightful music that evening further enhanced our feelings of national pride and the awe of being part of this great nation.

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Today we celebrate our nation’s birth. We enjoy freedoms that were certainly not free. Some men and women gave their lives; others invested their fortunes and devoted much time and energy to build a lasting foundation for the new nation. Now, 240 years later, we see the fabric that made this nation great being torn apart. We no longer base some of our laws on God’s Word. Instead of “One nation under God,” we serve the gods of greed, deception, materialism, and lust. We forgot the Psalmist David’s admonition in Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” and Solomon’s advice in Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

Sometime today will you join me in praying for our great nation? Our prayer must be based on 2 Chronicles 7:1: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” The apostle Paul tells us that we also should pray for our leaders: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Several months ago I learned of a free app, Give Him 15, that helps with praying daily for our nation. This is today’s prayer from that app: “Father, I thank You for a founding document that honors You, honors life and honors the equality of people. I thank You for founders that looked to You for the words and justification to remove themselves from ungodly rule and to set up a nation out from under oppression. I lift our current government leaders to You (list as many by name as you can). Please lead them by Your sovereign guidance, or remove them and replace them with those that can live according to our founding document. I worship You, Father, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.”

We honor those today who serve to keep our nation free. As citizens and as widows, our contribution for freedom can be daily prayer for God’s mercy and grace to surround us as we face these troubling times.

A Summer Adventure

Feeling the intense heat of a summer day and seeing a large hollyhock bush yesterday brought a wonderful memory to my mind. My sister Rachel was about 4 years old and I was six. Our summer ritual included a quiet time when we did not have to sleep, but we could read or play quietly in our room.

My sister and I were bored with reading the same books so our entrepreneurial spirits clicked in. We decided to make hollyhock and clothespin dolls to sell so we could buy new books. We worked diligently and then, much to our mother’s chagrin when she learned about our adventure, we went door to door around the block selling our wares. (We weren’t allowed to cross the busy street.) We collected quite a sum, enough to buy several books. (I’m laughing as I write.) Then a neighbor told Mom what we were doing. She didn’t become angry and we weren’t punished, but I remember her total embarrassment as she returned the money to the neighbors.

During these summer days, you may be thinking about the wonderful excursions you shared with your husband. One of my husband’s and my treats on a summer’s day off was to take the 15-cent ferry from Pt. Judith, RI, to Newport, RI. We walked the streets and seawall, looking at the beautiful mansions and well-groomed yards. Of course, the ocean breeze was refreshing.

As a widow, you may find it difficult to share a few hours of relaxation without your spouse, so at times you simply stay at home. If you are a mother with children still at home, plan an outing with a picnic lunch, walk through a park, or go to a ballgame. Even plan something with a mother who is single through divorce. This could be an encouragement to both families. Simply build new memories with the kids.

If you are alone and your children are scattered across the United States, be an instigator. Organize a trip to a museum with a few widows or go to a new restaurant or teahouse. Plan a shopping trip to an outlet mall or simply have a few widows to your home for lunch. Summer days are full of opportunities to share with others.

Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). We may not be able to experience the same wonderful vacations or times of refreshing that we once enjoyed, but we can discover new things–even simple things–that bring joy. Then we can bring pleasure to others through sharing.