I can’t believe it has been four years since I last held your hand… 4 long years since I last kissed you and told you that I would love you forever… 4 years since our babies got to see your smile and laughing face in person…
I don’t like to think about that day because I immediately remember sitting alone in the waiting room outside the ICU hearing the doctors and nurses and machines… and trying to drown out the sounds with worship music and praying for the doctors to come and tell me you were fine…
Thinking about that morning starts the tears that just won’t stop.
That one painful moment in time… the culmination of eleven beautiful years together. That one moment brought so much brokenness for me, but healing and wholeness for you…
Your mom shared this song with us today… and the words spell out so beautifully how I feel today…
“I know the road you walked was anything but easy,
You picked up your share of scars along the way
Oh, but now you’re standing in the sun, you’ve fought your fight and your race is run
The pain is all a million miles away.
The only scars in heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in heaven are on the hands that hold you now.
There’s not a day goes by that I don’t see you
You live on in all the better parts of me
Until I’m standing with you in the sun, I’ll fight this fight and this race I’ll run
Until I finally see what you can see…”
Four years have gone by so painfully fast and slow at the same time. We love and miss you just as much today as we did four years ago and look forward to the day when we are able to once again see your face. I wish you were here to see our sweet babies growing up… but I am thankful for the joy that we have every time we remember you. Love you… mean it!
Fifteen years ago, I woke up after a mostly sleepless night. I was excited about what would easily become one of the best days of my life. It had been a late night… In fact, I had hopped into a red convertible Corvette with my soon to be husband late the night before. We had taken a short drive away from all the family staying in the dorm I oversaw. And we found ourselves dancing under the streetlights in a parking lot next to the Campbell University football field.
People might think that was romantic. Or they may think that was a silly way to spend the night before our wedding when dozens of people were in town to spend time with us. But Ben knew that even after hours of lessons preparing for our first dance, I was still nervous to dance in front of our family and friends. And he wanted to make sure I woke up on our wedding day without a single worry in my head.
I forgot about that moment until last night. I lay in bed alone, remembering back to the night before that memorable day. A night when I saw all that I had dreamed of finally coming to fruition.
Today would have marked 15 years of marriage to the first person I ever loved. 15 years of learning about life, love, and each other. 15 years of parenting and growing our family together. Years that weren’t perfect, but where we continued to choose each other despite everything we faced.
Today is my anniversary… but at the same time, it’s not. Because we only got 11 years of marriage to learn and grow together. We only got to prove to the world that we could do it all for 11 short years.
I learned a lot in those 11 years… and even more in the four years since that relationship unexpectedly ended. And this is what I know:
Marriage is hard work. In 2014, I blogged about how there was no title that I ever worked as hard for as Mrs. I had not forgotten about earning my doctorate, but I knew that I was going to spend every day for the rest of my life working hard as a wife.
Marriage is worth it. I have not forgotten the hard moments of marriage. The moments when you both must fight in order to keep on moving forward together. When it feels like the world is imploding around you. It does not matter how much work it is, it is worth it. It is worth it to know that you get to wake up every day next to the love of your life until the end of time.
Life is short. This is probably the most cliché, but it is also the best advice I can give to anyone in a relationship. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. In fact, today may not be either. Do not waste a single minute. Love big, embrace the ones you love, and enjoy every second with them.
If you are one of the lucky few who have gotten to spend more than a decade with the one you love, I applaud you. I envy you. I wish I was you. I will likely shed a tear or two hearing about your 25th and 50th anniversary knowing that I will be old and gray before those celebrations will be on my radar again.
But I will also cheer louder and harder for you then anyone else. And I will thank God that He allowed you all to make it to that point… because marriage is hard, and while it is worth it, not everyone makes it to that point.
So here is my advice to you: Cling to those you love, remember that life is short, and celebrate every little milestone the two of you reach together. It is worth it.
Today I’m remembering moonlight dances, cheesecake, and wedding vows. And missing the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life working hard to deserve. Happy 15th Anniversary in Heaven, my love! Love you, Mean it!
If you have followed my blog for any amount of time, you know that I write a lot about fear and refusing to live in fear of the unknown. I try to embrace each and every day the way that Ben would have wanted us to, without being afraid of what may lie ahead.
The other day my daughter asked if the coronavirus was done spreading yet and when we were going to be able to leave our house and see our friends. I sat reflecting on the last time we had spent so many days in a row at home. I could immediately recall when it was. It was at the end of the summer of 2017 after we lost Ben. In those days we stayed home because it was my safe place to hide. My heart had been torn out and shattered. I never knew when I might implode, so I needed to be in a place I could trust to protect me from the outside world.
In those days, I wasn’t forced to stay locked away from the world, but I chose to. I needed to be locked inside myself to heal so that I could return whole again (or as close to whole as I could get).
Being able to pick myself up after a loss like that was a challenge. It was a challenge that I was not ready to face right away. But, one day I woke up and decided I wanted to embrace living head-on. I have prided myself the last two years on learning to live again, truly living! I wake up every day looking for the next great adventure that will allow me to truly live life!
I don’t know about you, but I have not really felt like I have been living the last few weeks. Being locked away, told who I can and can’t see, being unable to plan for the future; makes me question my definition of living fully. It’s made me wonder whether people, things, and places are what I really long for and whether I truly know how to be happy for myself.
And this is what I have learned. We get to determine how happy we are in our circumstances. No matter what put us in this place, we have a choice every day to make the best of it. Just like everyone else, I want to see my family, and I want to see my friends. I am disappointed in all the plans that have been cancelled and all the plans that won’t come to fruition because of this pandemic.
And this is what I have decided to do:
Keep Living. Keep waking up every day and making the most of it wherever you are.
Keep embracing the ones you love. Whether that is those you live with or your close circle of people that you are riding the storm out with, find a way to be close to them as much as you can.
Keep making memories. Try something new. Learn some new games and watch new movies.
Keep sharing joy. No matter how hard your current storm is, there are others who are struggling just as much or more. Find them and figure out how to share a little joy with them.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is the will of God.” I encourage you to keep on living life in spite of all uncertainty and doubt. Make plans and put them on the calendar. Find a way to look forward to waking up every single day. You won’t regret a moment spent looking for the good!
I have reflected a lot the past two years on all I learned from Ben and about the ways that God prepared me for losing him before he was gone. And in the last few days I have read countless posts by people who are overwhelmed by the current situation in our country and all that they have lost. I am no different.
The current crisis in our country makes me increasingly aware of the sanctity of life and my place in this world… but I do not face this situation overly fearful and without hope. Because this is what I know:
I know what it is like to lose control.
When Ben got sick, I quickly learned what it was like to lose control. I lived by routines and dietary restrictions because they were something that I could manage. When he died, we learned quickly that no matter how hard we try, there are some things that are just plain out of our control. This is no different. We still have choices, but many things are going to be out of our control in the coming weeks. Embrace flexibility. Take control of what you can (routines, schedules, and keeping your family safe). Let go of the things you can’t control. Holding onto those things too tightly will only stress you out more.
I know what loss feels like.
You may not have lost a spouse or a child, but we are living in a time when most everyone is going to suffer a loss. If I have repeated any sentiment over the last three years it is this. Your loss may not be the same as my loss, but it still matters. It is okay to be sad about graduations, trips, and plans that won’t happen. Do what you can to make the best of those situations. Choose a way to make those moments still happen for you and your family, and try to find a way to smile through them. But there is no loss “too small” that you can’t shed a few tears over it if you need to. Don’t belittle anyone else’s pain. Sit with them, tell them it is okay and try to share some joy with them. Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
I know what it is like to homeschool my children (and to give myself a whole lot of grace).
This is my kids first year in public school. It was a very conscious decision on my part to NOT homeschool this year. And while I love homeschooling and the freedom it allows us, I felt that God gave me peace to let them go this year. Like many of you, I did not plan on homeschooling this spring, nor did I want to. Yet here we are. We are only on day 2, and one of my children embraces this process wholeheartedly, while the others are already struggling. I’m an experienced teacher and homeschool mom, and I am acknowledging this will be hard. Find your tribe, share the joys and trials, and lift each other up. Some of us will enjoy this time, and others will not. Find a way to give yourself grace. It doesn’t make you less of a parent to be honest and say you are struggling with this! Remind others to give themselves grace too!
I know what being lonely is like.
I have never felt more alone in my life then when I lost Ben. Even in the moments when I was surrounded by others, I was so lost in myself that I felt like I was in the world alone. There are going to be times the next few weeks that even if you are surrounded by your family (24 hours a day 😊) that you are going to feel alone. It’s okay. We were made for fellowship with others. God intended us to have others to hold us up and share life with. No matter how alone you feel, I encourage you to reach out to someone else who you realize might be more alone (a single parent, a widow, someone without children, or elderly). Knowing there are others out there going through the same thing can make you feel less alone. Hebrews 13:1 says, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.”
I know who holds the future.
I believe I have been through a LOT of suffering and hard times in my short 39 years on earth, and I can tell you this: I know who holds the future. Even in the darkest and most trying times of my life, I know I was not alone. And in those darkest moments when I had no one else on earth to depend on, I found my relationship with the Lord growing the deepest. Embrace your church, embrace your online Bible studies, and lean into the truth of the scripture. Because while we don’t know the future, I know who does. John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
I do not know what tomorrow holds for any of us. But I do know these few things. And I know that others, who have grieved and lost, know more than you can imagine about the pain that the world is in right now. We know it, we have lived it, and we are still here to say you can get through this too!
I am praying much health and happiness over each of you. Keep on loving and encouraging others. We will get through this together!
I remember a few months after Ben died meeting another lady who had recently lost her spouse. I was so thankful to have someone who understood my pain and could relate to this uncertain new world I was entering. When she invited me to a young widows support group I jumped at the opportunity. I knew early on that surrounding myself with people who not only understood my pain, but who had been there, would make all the difference in how I navigated loss.
I remember sitting in tears and listening to this group of ladies sharing about losing their spouses, how long they had been married, and how long it had been since their loss. These ladies had been attending this group for weeks, months, years, and some even decades.
I remember leaving so confused about how they could still be grieving such a loss so heavily after so much time had passed. I remember telling my friend, I loved Ben so much, but I don’t want this to be what defines me for the rest of time. Twenty years from now, I don’t want to still be introducing myself to people by my pain and loss… I will ALWAYS be Ben’s widow, but I don’t want that to be the only thing that is left of me.
As time has gone on, I have realized that you don’t magically wake up one day and have the grief disappear. Ben will always be there, and while the pain from losing him will lessen, it will never go away. But I have also realized something critical to surviving loss, and that is that I have to grieve with hope.
Have you ever faced something and felt helpless to overcome it? A death, a divorce, infertility, a lost job or an uncontrollable relationship?
I have met so many people who grieve without hope. They believe their loss will define them until the end of time, and are determined that it is impossible to ever be happy again. Charles Spurgeon said, “without Christ there is no hope.”
As difficult as it was to lose Ben (and I would NEVER have chosen it), I have prayed and believed since the day he died that God had a plan that would help to redeem some of that loss. I believed that He would help us to come out braver, stronger, and while not without scar, with purpose. There have been moments here and there where I lose sight of that, but when I reflect back on the past few years, I have never doubted that God has a plan even when I didn’t understand it.
I actually learned that from Ben. After years of infertility and a devastating miscarriage; he taught me that life is not without pain, but we can’t let that pain define us. God always sees us through and if we allow it, He will rewrite our stories in ways that we can’t even imagine.
I will always be a widow; just like I will always be a mom, a daughter, a teacher, and a lover of Christ. And I will always need the support of other widows who understand what it is like to walk this road. But when people introduce me twenty years from now, I want them to also remember me as someone who made the most of every day that she was given, not living in the land of “what ifs” and days gone by, but instead basking in the goodness of all that the Lord has given her in the present.
If you find yourself without hope; I pray that you will find a reason to dream again. That God would allow you to hope for a better tomorrow… that you would be able to wake up and face the day with hope for all that He can be doing in and through you in this new season…
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 43:5
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” Psalm 130:5
“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7”
*** Please understand that I don’t want Ben forgotten, and my past will always help to define me. Every bit of what I have been through in life is what makes me who I am today… but first and foremost, I am a child of God, who longs for my relationship with him to be the first thing people see when they meet me.
A few weeks ago, a friend referenced broken pottery when describing what happened to our family when we lost Ben. Her analogy of our family shattering into a million pieces so accurately depicted how I have felt the last few years about the pain from this loss. She validated how hard it has been to pick up all those pieces and try to put them back together. No matter how much we try; we will never be able to put all those pieces back together and restore them perfectly to what we had before.
Sometimes I still wonder if I will ever truly feel whole again. If the broken pieces of me will ever fit back together well enough that I no longer feel the wind blowing through all of the cracks. If my longing for perfection, will ever allow me to be satisfied with the reality of life after loss. I long for the innocence that came from that “perfect” relationship, and the us against the world mentality; but am now faced with the reality that us against the world, could once again easily become, just ME.
Change has always been hard for me. Growing up I wanted to marry, set down roots, and live in the same place close to my family for the rest of my life. But God forced me of my comfort zone time and time again as he led me to marry someone in the military, follow him around the country and set down roots in new places over and over again.
Deep down, I know this is no different. God is still leading me out of my comfort zone, into the unknown, and directing me to put my eyes on Him and Him alone. I know that the piece that Ben filled will always be left empty, but this weekend I changed my perspective. I saw a cracked jug in a store… it had a beautiful plant growing out of the broken places. At first glance it may have seemed like trash, completely broken and wasted, something no one could use; but someone was able to make something beautiful grow out of the brokenness.
I want that to be me. I want to trust God to create something new and beautiful in my broken places. What about the broken places in your life? Do you ever feel they are beyond repair? I pray that you would be able to make something beautiful out of that brokenness in a way that only Jesus can.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
I didn’t buy that cracked jug. At the time I didn’t want a reminder of the brokenness that I feel on a daily basis… but I have been thinking about it all week… and I may go back to that store and bring it home. I need that daily reminder that God can create beautiful things out of our brokenness if we let Him.
Ask anyone who has experienced a life changing event, a death or a loss and they will likely tell you that there is a defining moment in time that divides their present life from the way that it used to be. The memories, the thoughts, even the feelings are split in half by that one event.
Looking back for me that first moment was not losing Ben, but his original diagnosis. When I look back over the short 14 years we had together, my memories are split in time… those before cancer rocked our world and those after. Our innocence and bliss were gone, and while we regained that somewhat after each of his surgeries, I think deep down we never let go of the fear that our world would come crashing down when we least expected it.
Many of our friends would have said that Ben let cancer control his life after he was diagnosed… he changed his diet, he changed his routine, and he broadened his reading material. But I don’t believe that he let it control him nearly as much as it appeared to others. He continued to live life to the fullest every single day. He didn’t let his new diet or knowledge keep him from enjoying life.
For me though, I lived in fear of the new knowledge. We avoided toxic cleaners, electronic devices, sugar, processed foods, and unhealthy habits. I was afraid of the mold in our house and would lay awake for hours stressing about every ache or pain that I faced (or piece of candy that I ate). Then for a short while after Ben’s death I rebelled and ate as much ice cream as I could, stocked my freezer full of Reese’s, and stopped worrying about turning off the wifi while I slept.
I refused to allow my fear of those things to define the rest of my life. I didn’t want my children to see me living in fear of the unknown either. I still keep most of those healthy habits, but I no longer worry all the time that we will get cancer if we eat a piece of candy… or stop for fast food.
If I have learned anything over the past few months, it is that we don’t have to let those defining moments define us. We get to choose how much control we let those moments have. You can embrace the place that you are and allow God to meet you right there and help you through it, or you can choose to continue to let it leave you frozen in fear.
Maybe for you the defining moment was a marriage, divorce, death, lost job or even when you gave your life to Christ. No matter the circumstance, you find that you too can look back on your life and see the before and after. Friend, I pray that whatever that defining moment in your life is, that you will allow God to use it to open up a new world of opportunity and that you will see the blessing in being able to trust Him to get you successfully to the “after.”
Friend, the after is in His hands. “He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Trust Him and He will help you through!
You know that time when you shared your heart with that friend because the struggle you were facing seemed to be too big to handle on your own? You needed a sounding board and someone to hear all the anxieties and worries and tell you that you were not alone?
Maybe you didn’t need advice or even someone to respond, but just to know that someone else knew your struggles and was there if you needed them. I have been in that place more times than I can possibly count. Sitting in my not so quiet house longing for someone to talk to and hear my struggles. Someone who could tell me that while they may not be able to relate, they understand the place I am and I am not alone.
I am thankful that God has sent those people into my life this past year to fill the void left by losing Ben. While it will never be the same as having him here, I appreciate their willingness to listen, their attempts to relate, and their loving me through whatever the struggle was. And most importantly, their praying for me to find peace in the midst of whatever that struggle was.
Somehow, when we are able to voice those struggles and concerns with someone else, it seems to lessen the burden that those struggles have on us. Even when they can’t relate, having someone to listen keeps me from feeling alone.
But more importantly, I have also learned to rely on my heavenly father this year in those quiet times when there is no one around who can relate or understand. He also reminds me that I am not alone in that place. All throughout scripture I see people who thought they were alone in their struggles and pains and needed to be reminded that God was with them no matter what they were facing.
The book of Joshua is one of those places that I keep going back to these days. Repeatedly throughout the first chapter of Joshua as we see God outlining his plan for Joshua and reminding him to not be afraid because He would be with him.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
I am not alone. Even on the days when it feels like no one understands, no one can relate, and no one feels my pain. There is a heavenly Father who is right there, understanding, relating and who lifts me back up so that I know I can continue to make it through. And I am grateful for those friends who have surrounded me this year and have pushed me to remember that even when they are not with me, HE is. And He will never leave me alone.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have heard or even repeated the phrase, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” over the past decade or two. It’s something that has been so ingrained into me that I am not even sure that I ever even considered whether or not I thought it was true. However, it is a question that has new meaning for me as it is one that I have asked myself repeatedly over the past few months since we lost Ben. Not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself, “has God given me more than I can handle?”
I came upon this scripture three times in my Bible reading and devotionals over the past week, and it really hit home for me. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.”
Paul says they were under great pressure, far beyond their ability to endure. I know the feelings and emotions that go along with that. Some days I feel like there is pressure from every side. I feel the pressure to make decisions now, the pressure to not make decisions too quickly, the pressure to try to grieve the way that everyone else does, and the pressure to please everyone that I come into contact with. Some days I feel like it is beyond my ability to endure it.
In the past six months, I ran out of gas twice and the kids and I suffered the consequences of a cold house and the price associated with it. I have had to jump more car batteries, and lawn mowers than I can count. I have debated the choice between buying and renting a house and I have faced the decision of whether this is the right season to continue homeschooling my children. I have broken up more fights than I would care to admit and have spent countless hours crying about how I might be ruining my children.
I wonder how I can be the one left here to make these decisions and choices alone, when I was perfectly content in marriage allowing someone to make all these same choices for me. And on those days sometimes it does feel like a death sentence… not because my life is awful (it’s far from it); but because I realize that it could perfectly well be God’s plan for me to remain in this place, pressed on every side, for the remainder of my life.
But then we get to the next part of that scripture, where it says, “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God… He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again.” I can’t think of a time in my life when I have relied more heavily on God for anything than I do right now. EVERY SINGLE DAY. I lost more than Ben on August 15, 2017, I lost the part of myself that was dependent on someone else for my happiness… the part of myself that thought that I had control of anything in life. I was left an empty shell of a person with only God to rely on and count on to meet my every need. And He has done so, more abundantly than I can ever imagine and hope for. I wake up every single day and am reminded that only HE can deliver me from this place I am, and only HE can provide for my every need, if I rely on HIM!
More Than I Can Handle?
Friends, God gives me way more than I can handle every single day of my life. Bills to pay, decisions to make, lawn mowers and cars to fix, a house to clean, fights to break up, and people to please. But every one of those pressures comes from something that I am blessed to have in my life… children, friends, family, a house, a car, and the list goes on. I can’t handle a single bit of the pressures of this world without Him. And I am incredibly grateful for the fact that with this pressure comes the unquenchable desire to rely on Him and only Him to meet my needs. God definitely gives me more than I can handle, but He equips me to handle it in ways that I never thought I could.
If the pressures of this world are pressing in on you, I hope that you too will find strength in relying on Him.
Today marks six months since Ben died and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Life is not the same without him here and finding a new “normal” has been a challenge. I still see reminders of him around every corner, and can’t imagine the rest of life without him in it.
Over the last six months I have talked to more people about grief and have read more books about losing a spouse then I would have even thought were in print. I read them searching for hope, for peace, for an idea of what comes next and what expectations I can have for the future.
Since this journey began I have wondered what the end would look like… would I make it to the end… would the grief ever truly go away? Or would it be with me until the end of life brings me back together with him? I struggled with not wanting the grief to end, and knowing that Ben would never have wanted me to stay in that place of pain forever.
A friend recently told me that grief is like a tug of war… and I find that realization both insightful and encouraging. If you think of the line as the dividing point between grief and contentment/happiness, you will see that you can constantly be pulled back and forth from one side to the other. As she described it, you end up going back and forth from one side to the other until you realize you are spending more time across the line then on the grief side of it.
I don’t think that it matters how strong you are, or how hard you pull or fight against it… you are bound to spend some time on both sides of the line. You may pull with all your might, but you will still end up spending some time in grief. And eventually if you trust God and allow Him to work in you, you will spend more time across that dividing line.
I don’t think there is a time limit on grief. I think that the amount of time spent on either side of that line is different for each one of us. It doesn’t mean we love less or have moved on if we spend more time on the other side of the line, it just means that we have reached a point where God has let us let go a little.
I miss Ben tremendously. I still love him with all my heart. But these days I am thankful for the time that I get to spend across that dividing line. I am thankful for the opportunity to smile and laugh and enjoy life with my family and friends again. It doesn’t make me miss or love him any less, but it constantly reminds me of how he lived life. He lived it the fullest, he enjoyed every moment, and he made a point of making every moment count.
For a while I didn’t want the moments to count without him in them. And now, I want to make them count for him. I don’t think of it as letting go of Ben or of grief, but of allowing God to take me to a different place in this journey. I am thankful that He continues to stay right beside me as I will continue pulling that rope back and forth for the next months and years as we learn to live life without Ben.
I have heard from so many people since I posted my last blog post. I am praying for you. If God has you in a season where you aren’t okay, I am praying He will come right alongside you and comfort you and give you hope. I can’t imagine being in this place without Him and I pray you will find Him there too!