I met someone the other day who upon chatting about the loss of Ben started to cry for us, for me and the children and our loss. I think they were a little surprised when I said, “don’t cry, really, we are in a good place right now.”
I walked away wondering if I sounded heartless, like he didn’t matter anymore. There are just moments when I don’t want to explain our emotions and feelings to strangers. The kids and I ARE in a good place right now. It doesn’t mean we love Ben any less, or that we don’t miss him immensely, it only means that we are starting to find healing in this place.
I have learned a lot on this journey through grief… I have learned:
It’s okay to cry,
It’s okay to not be okay,
It’s okay to grieve openly or to grieve privately.
It’s okay to be angry,
It’s okay to want to be alone,
It’s okay to want to be around people,
It’s okay to be lost…
But I still struggle with answering the question, is it okay to be okay?
I don’t believe that you ever stop grieving the loss of someone you loved. They are never forgotten and like dreams lost and pain from the past, it’s always there, just hopefully in a little less painful form over time. At times I feel the guilt that one feels when they leave someone else out of the fun moments of life. I wonder if people think I shouldn’t be smiling or laughing quite so much. I wonder if we really shouldn’t be so “okay” right now.
But Psalms 30:2-5 says, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored my life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
I prayed for healing and restoration for Ben for years, and after he died, I prayed for healing and restoration for me and the kids. I wanted to come back out of the pit of despair and find a reason to sing and rejoice and praise His holy name. I am thankful for the joy that has come with the morning and while there is still occasional weeping, I am okay with being okay in this season!
The kids and I are learning to live life to the fullest these days, just like Ben would have wanted us to. We still grieve him. We still miss him. And at times, I still lose control of my emotions. But we are in a good place, we are finding peace and joy and happiness in the day to day, and we are thankful for the joy that comes in the morning! It’s more than okay for us to be okay, it’s an answer to our prayers.
I knew Father’s Day was going to be hard for me this year. I spent weeks going back and forth about how I should spend it and changing plans with friends and family because I didn’t know if I wanted us to be alone or with other people. I debated letting the day pass by without acknowledgment at all (like I tried to do with Mother’s Day this year) so that I wouldn’t cause my children unnecessary sadness or pain either.
The Bible tells us over and over that God will be “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” (Psalm 68:5). Psalm 146:9 says he “sustains the fatherless and the widow.”
One of Ben’s greatest desires in life was to be a dad. After years of trying to get pregnant, I was ready to give up on becoming parents the “traditional” route, but he never was. He believed that God would give us the desires of our heart, even when I doubted it. The birth of our children, albeit challenging (emergency c-sections, NICU babies, and a medically induced coma), were some of the highlights of our married life.
There was nothing he loved more than being a husband and a father to our children. One of my greatest regrets about our short marriage is that we weren’t able to have children sooner and we never achieved our goal of adopting and having a family as large as we wanted together! Anyone who knew him knew how much he loved our kids. He made sure that everyone knew how much he loved being a dad. Even when he was sick, he took time every day to curl up on the couch and watch a show with them, reading to them and letting them read to him.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the emotion of seeing them with other fathers and with their uncles and think, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to grow up with their own dad. They were supposed to know him, not just hear about him from his friends and family. Instead, they will grow up with pictures and shared memories and very little about him that they remember for themselves, other than seizures and sickness.
Ben had a heart for the fatherless and orphans. He wanted nothing more than for us to continue to grow our family through taking in foster children and adopting those who needed the love of two parents. Never did we ever imagine that he would not be around to raise the ones that we already had.
I have turned to the scripture a lot for guidance in the past few months, as I struggle with the how and why of them being “fatherless.” I can’t imagine not growing up with a dad. I love my dad and still turn to him when I need guidance and a shoulder to cry on. My children never got that opportunity.
If there is anything I know about Ben it is that he would have never wanted his children (or anyone else’s) to grow up without an earthly father. For now, I have to be satisfied with knowing that they have a heavenly father who is looking out for them and is there to provide guidance and direction for each of us as we continue to navigate life without Ben.
John 14:18 says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The Lord is the father to the fatherless and the defender of widows. He alone can be trusted with my little ones hearts and their sadness at not having an earthly father right now. I can trust that in his timing, He will heal every bit of pain and sorrow that comes from the loss of their dad at such a young age. It’s something that only He can do.
***I am incredibly thankful for the earthly fathers who have embraced and loved on my children over the past ten months without their dad. And I am thankful that they will always know the love of a heavenly father as they navigate life without their earthly dad. And one day if the Lord wills it, I hope that they once again know the love of a father the way I was able to growing up.***
I am a worrier by nature. I worry about what I wear, and how I look, and about what I feed myself and my kids. I worry that I am making bad decisions and that I am messing all our lives up. And I worry that one day I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. The thoughts, “what if I should have done this?” or “what if I should have said that?” run through my head at least a dozen times a day. I am a worrier!
Every time Ben was diagnosed with cancer I spent countless hours wondering if we were making the wrong choice regarding treatment. And when he passed away last August, I wracked my brain with what ifs. What if I hadn’t taken him to the VA Hospital, what if we hadn’t cut back on the steroids to help him walk, what if we hadn’t given him this or that med, and most importantly, what if I had fought harder for them to give him the meds he needed at the hospital sooner.
I don’t know about you, but I spend countless hours worrying and thinking about how I handle things in life and trying to decide if things would turn out differently if I make a different choice. At times, I find myself completely beat down by the “what ifs.” I find myself unable to act because “what if” I make the wrong decision?
If there is anything I have learned on this journey it is that we can’t live in the pit of what ifs. Matthew 6:27 says, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” No amount of wondering “what if” will change what has already happened and is in the past. And deep down I believe that God orders our steps. Nothing we do is going to change His divine order of things. And while I can waste time worrying about what could have been, it isn’t going to change the outcome of things. It may just cause me to miss out on some of the present.
The story of Martha in the Bible has always fascinated me. She accomplished a lot, but worried about things that didn’t matter. She stressed because she was working alone while her sister was sitting at Jesus’ feet. When she complained, Jesus reminded her that what she was worried about didn’t matter, and that her sister was choosing the better route (Luke 10:38-42).
Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The things I worry about don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And worrying about them isn’t going change the outcome. In addition to letting go of fear this year, I am on a mission to learn to let go of worries, and resurrect myself from the pit of “what if.” I have lived there way too long and know that the sun shines so much brighter when I am able to see it with my feet planted firmly on level ground.
If like me you are a worrier, I encourage you to make a list of everything that you worry about. Truly look at that list and ask yourself whether worrying about it is going to change the outcome or make one difference in how the situation turns out. Pray over each of those things and let them go. You will live so much happier and full of joy if you do.
***And if you find you relate with Martha from the story of Mary and Martha, I encourage you to look for the book, Make Like Martha by Katie M. Reid. It is a fantastic book about overcoming worry and living in faith (while getting things done). It comes out in July 2018. I have been lucky enough to read an advance reader copy and am thankful for the new perspective it is giving me on letting go of worry!
Ben’s mom refers to herself the jelly bean grandma. Before she was the jellybean grandma she was the jelly bean mom. The first time I heard that reference I remember thinking about candy and happy thoughts. But to her the phrase has nothing to do with sweet treats. To her it meant that when buying gifts or passing out anything to anyone, she would take the time to count the gift, even down to the last jellybean. She wanted to make sure that everyone was treated fairly, and equally. As a mom, I pride myself on trying to treat my children equally, and being “fair.” If I do something special with one child, I make it a point to take the time to do the same thing with each of them.
I think most of us grow up these days with the expectation that we should be treated equally and fairly in life. And that we will receive the life that we deserve. One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with over the past 9 months (and really over my entire married life) is that life is not always fair. No matter how good God is and how many right choices and decisions we make throughout our lives, we are not always going to get the life we think we deserve or the outcome that we think is fair.
My Bible study over the past few weeks has drawn my attention to the story of Joseph and countless others who were given so much more unfairness than they “deserved.” Joseph trusted God and knew God had a plan for his life. Yet he found himself sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of rape and even thrown into prison. I can imagine that during those painful years he pleaded with God and man asking how can this be fair? Do I deserve this? But each of those unfair, undeserved experiences helped to align and put him exactly where God needed him to be in order to fulfil his purpose. If he had stayed home and received every good and perfect gift from his father, would he have found himself in authority in Egypt where he could help his family many years down the road when they needed it?
This winter, I tried to jump back into life praying and believing that like Job, God would restore every single thing that was lost and that he would redeem my life the same way. I wanted to believe that God wouldn’t take away something as wonderful as my dearly beloved husband without redeeming it. Deep down I felt like that was what I deserved. Coming to the realization that like Joseph, I may not see the reason for all this pain has been a difficult thing to process. Somedays it just doesn’t seem fair.
But God didn’t say that life would be fair. He didn’t say that nothing bad would ever happen to me, and He didn’t say that everything was going to be restored in a night. What He did promise is that He would be with me every step of the way. And He has been. On the good days, and the bad, I can feel His everlasting presence and comfort holding me up and guiding my way. And one day I hope that I will see how all this pain comes together to complete and glorify His plan (It’s okay that I am praying that day is soon, right?)
In the end, Joseph acknowledged that every step of that journey was ordained by God and was a part of His great plan. In Genesis 45:8 Joseph says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” He realized that what at one time probably seemed so unfair and undeserved was exactly what God had planned for him all along.
Friends, life isn’t always fair. We don’t always get the life we expected, or even the one we think that we deserve. But I can tell you that He will give you strength for the journey. He will comfort and guide you every step of the way. And while you may not see what good can come from this current season of struggle and hardship, God is using every step of it for his purpose.
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.
I wrote these words a few months ago and debated about sharing them because the emotions were raw, and fresh, and I was afraid of hurting people that I love… but as I reread them with a different perspective I feel that they explain so many things that I can’t put to words. I pray that if we are friends, you don’t take them personally and that if you are dealing with grief, that you realize it is okay to have moments when you don’t recognize yourself anymore.
These days it isn’t uncommon for me to be in a room full of family or friends and feel completely alone. To feel out of place, like I don’t belong and trying to figure out if I still fit there. I remember the past and wonder if I will ever feel as comfortable in the present as I did then. These places used to be so easy with Ben by my side, but now they just feel empty and I forget what it is even like to belong. I know deep down that I can never go back to that same place of comfort, but I long for it more than I can stand most days.
My heart hurts for my single friends, but I feel like there is no pain like the loneliness that comes after loss. If the long days at home with our three children weren’t a big enough reminder, climbing into bed alone every night would be. It’s quiet even in the midst of all the noise. And this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. There is no one tangible person to rely on, to provide constant encouragement, or to put their arm around me when I need comfort at the end of a hard day.
I’m incredibly thankful for friends who have tried to fill the void, but it is a void that many days feels impossible to fill. It’s an emptiness that overwhelms me and makes me long to crawl back into bed each morning and pull the covers over my head. I long for the passage of time to when the ache is less, as though a few more months or weeks would make the pain easier to manage.
I question my every decision, my every choice, and my every prayer. Some days I don’ t know if I can trust my own judgment anymore and there is no one to turn to for insight who does not have their own biased opinion about what I should do and how I should do it. I prayed to not go to this dark place of loneliness, but I find myself here anyways and unsure of what to do here.
And in the midst of all this pain and loneliness, I find myself begging for the Lord to calm my insecurities and fears and bring me everlasting joy. Some say you don’t truly know what you have until it is gone, but I did know what I had, and the pain seems greater still because I know exactly what I lost. I know it’s gone and I daily live with the reminder that he is never coming back. I can’t wish or pray him back here, instead I have to trust God that, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5b.
When I wrote these words a few months ago, it seemed strange for me to say I was no longer comfortable anywhere. But today I feel peace in realizing that it is okay for me to admit that I no longer find comfort in the same things that I have always done. And there is nothing wrong with saying that being in the same places no longer brings me the same comfort. Today I find a new sense of comfort in new places like I have never known… and with new friends that I don’t completely understand. My heart hurts that these friends never had the chance to know Ben, and that Ben doesn’t get to experience those new places with me. But I feel like a different person these days and they understand me in a way that people I have known for years don’t. I’m still learning who I am in this new season of loneliness. I’m learning what my life looks like after losing the love of my life. But I know that I am a new person who is trusting God to bring me to a new place, where I will once again feel comfort and peace with His arms wrapped around me and holding me tight.
**I still love every one of my friends and family very much… I just want you to know that I’m still trying to learn to navigate and understand myself and this place I am now… so if I act quiet or uncomfortable around you it isn’t because I no longer love you. I may just need a little more grace then usual as I figure out who I am in this new season 😉
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!
Staying Faithful Through the Unexpected
A journey with our family through multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. As well as a look into our struggles and faith!
Being still for Caitlin Grace
The Joy of the Lord is our Strength
Finding Beauty in the Everyday.
Chasing Christ in the Chaos
Learning to Embrace the Storms of Life