Faith without fear… (& A BOOK GIVEAWAY)

A few weeks ago, my daughter was unable to sleep.  She kept coming in my room repeatedly concerned about the possibility of a snake swallowing her whole while she slept.  We talked about her fear and the unlikely possibility of a snake that large getting into her room at night.  And then I reminded her that when we are afraid we only have to pray that God will take our fears away and trust that He will take care of us.

The following morning as we drove to school she told me that she wasn’t afraid anymore because she knew that God would protect her.  It was a gut-wrenching moment for me as I had laid awake for hours the night before harboring my own fears.  How often do I give my kids advice that I don’t follow myself?  If only I could have faith like a child and just believe that once I have turned something over to the Lord that I no longer need to lay awake worrying about the snakes in my own life.

Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege of reading the book, Into the Deep, by Lauren Gaskill.  Lauren addresses the pain, suffering, frustrations that we all face in life and shows us how we can dive headfirst into a life of courageous faith.  She says early in her book, “There was a time in my life when I let my struggles define me, but I’m not going back there—to the darkness, to the night, to the overwhelming pit of despair.  And neither are you.  Because we have been called into the light—into a life of courageous faith.”

As I have studied chapter by chapter of her book, I have been both encouraged and challenged to dive deeper into my faith, and to remind my children how to let their faith have power over their fears.  She reminds the reader that a fearless faith is not a fairy tale, and it is obtainable if we only put our trust in God.  So often, I let my fears and insecurities get the best of me, and I allow them power over parts of my life that they should have never been allowed to reach—all because I don’t put my trust in the ONLY one who can calm all my fears.

It’s not enough to have faith, we have to be able to live out that faith daily.  We have to be able to look at every situation that we face with a trust in Him and a belief that that faith will move the mountains in our lives.  When we surrender to His will and to his guidance, those mountains in our life, don’t seem so hard to face.

“In the good times and the bad times, I’ve learned that trusting God and surrendering my all to Him is the best way to live, because it takes the burden off my shoulders.”- Lauren Gaskill, Into the Deep

I encourage everyone to grab a copy of this book.  Read it alone, study it with a friend, message me if you want to chat about the wisdom in it’s pages!  And if this is a book you think would challenge you and encourage you in your faith, leave a comment below!  I have a copy I will be giving away to a reader who comments before Friday, November 9th!

Is it possible to love again?

Growing up I never wanted anything more than the ability to be a wife and a mom one day.  It seemed like I waited forever for the love of my life to come along and for the two of us to become a family.  I knew how lucky I was to find someone to love and who loved me in return.  And Ben and I tried not to waste a moment of our life together.  Building our family was something that didn’t happen as quickly as we wanted (or at all in the manner that we wanted it to), but we never gave up hope in believing that God had a plan that was bigger than us.

If you had asked me last summer if something happened to Ben would I ever want to find love again, I would have answered with an emphatic “NO,” just like I told him numerous times when we talked about it throughout our married life.  A love like that only comes along once in a lifetime, right?  Most people don’t have the opportunity for one great love, much less two.  And I knew I would never settle for anything less.

And for a few months after Ben died, I couldn’t imagine ever getting over my grief enough to care about anyone else, much less love them.  There were days I longed for the love and happiness we shared, and days too when I felt guilty for wanting to be happy again.  I would read books about grieving widows and toss them aside when it got to the part where they had remarried or started dating.  I judged the women in my support group for dating after losing their spouses.  How could they understand my grief when they have already moved on?  Did they ever even care about their spouse?

Then after a few months, it truly hit me that I was alone.  The reality of the fact that Ben was gone and he was never coming back really began to set in.  People weren’t around as much, and visitors weren’t a constant in our house.  I realized I missed the companionship that came from marriage, and the comfort from knowing that there is always someone there for you at the end of the day.  I especially missed having the ability to submit to someone else’s leadership and decision making.  I started clinging to the hope found in those chapters of second love.  The fact that they had found happiness didn’t mean they grieved their first love any less, but that they understood what a wonderful blessing that they had and wanted to reclaim the beauty of that relationship again moving forward.

I judged myself for even considering dating again, much less marrying someone that wasn’t Ben.  And I spent a lot of time reading God’s word and asking for him to comfort me in those quiet, lonely moments.  And I felt peace.  I knew my grief wasn’t gone, and that I would always grieve Ben, but I began praying for someone that would be able to walk that journey with me, to comfort me and provide encouragement.

And because I am a researcher, I not only read stories of people who dated after losing their spouse, but I also messaged people who had been in my shoes and asked them questions about whether it was too soon for me to feel this way, and whether it was possible to grieve and love someone else at the same time.  I read the journals Ben kept for years, knowing deep down that he didn’t want me to be alone, but longing to read the words where he set me free to try to find love again.  And every time I saw the story of a widow remarrying, I searched for the length of time that they waited before they felt they were ready for that commitment again.

Some of the widows I knew talked about online dating, but I didn’t want to go through that kind of drama.  And despite several people trying to get me interested in some of the men that I already knew (or friends of friends), I had no interested in seeking out a relationship myself.  I began praying that if God wanted me to date or develop a relationship with someone else that he would drop them into my lap.

People told me that I was just lonely and that I shouldn’t want to date to fill the void that I was left with after losing Ben.  I worked hard to prove to myself (and others) that I was perfectly happy single and raising my children on my own.  But truth be told, I believe that all single people are lonely every now and then, and if I waited til I was perfectly happy being single before dating Ben, I would probably have never gotten married.  The difference is that fifteen years later, I am reminded every single day of what life was like before Ben, and of the loneliness that he amazingly took away when he was here.

Friends, no one has judged me more critically then I have judged myself over the past months.  I have heard repeatedly that I can’t be ready to date again, it’s too soon.  And people have remarked that I “got over” Ben really fast.  I still grieve the loss of Ben every single day, but I also know that it is possible to love like that again.  A few months ago, a friend shared with me the words of her own mentor… she told me that the fact that I am willing to open my heart to find love again so quickly after losing Ben is a testament to the amazing marriage and husband that I had.  Ben loved me, he loved our kids, and he would want nothing more than for us to find happiness, fulfillment, and contentment again.

I will never stop loving Ben, grieving Ben, and missing Ben; but I know that it is possible to find another great love.  Someone who will walk the journey of life with me and my kids, accept that we will always love and miss Ben, and provide the comfort and spiritual leadership that we long for.  And friends, there is no time limit on love.  It doesn’t matter what kind of pain, tragedy, sickness or loss that is suffered, God has given us the infinite ability to love deep, and to love big.

I know from experience that life is short, and we should live every day to the fullest.  We only get one life to live and if God sees fit to give me that chance again, why would I waste a single minute?  I know that when I share of that great love, I will face judgment and people won’t understand, but friends, I know from the decade I spent with Ben, that that love is worth every heartache, every pain, every judgment and every sorrow for the sheer possibility of loving BIG and having the chance to serve God with someone who loves me and God that much back!

***I don’t share my heart on this easily, but I know I am not alone in this struggle.  I have spoken to widow after widow, who not only shares my heart on this, but who also worries about the judgment they will face.  Please know that we don’t do anything lightly.  We pray, we seek God, and we struggle with how much of our pain to share with others.  At the end of the day, I pray that you will give us more grace than we give ourselves.  We didn’t choose to walk this path, but we are trying to make the most of every day that the Lord has given us as we do!

Loss

You Are Not Alone…

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.

Joshua 1_9

“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.

The Road Less Traveled…

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads trying to determine which way to turn?  Have you wondered what outcome a certain decision could make and stood anticipating the possible difficulty of the way ahead?  If you could see a road filled with potholes and struggles, would you keep going, or would you choose a different route?

I make no secret of the fact that I have always had a difficult time making decisions.  I have shared my struggle with trying to determine whether a difficult road is worth the time and effort.  And if I am completely honest, I can admit to you that some days I find myself frozen in the road trying to determine whether it is even worth it to keep on going.

I have never once doubted the value of life itself, but there have been days in the past (and even the present) when I have wondered whether life would be easier if I could just avoid any possible difficulty on the road ahead of me.

Someone asked me the other day whether I thought I could ever truly love again.  And if I could would it be worth it?  Knowing you have had a perfect love and lost it, is daunting.  Knowing that life is fleeting, is even more haunting.  They asked whether I could open myself up again after all the pain and suffering I lived in losing Ben.  Without hesitation I answered yes.  If you told me fifteen years ago that the road Ben and I travelled would be riddled with infertility, loss, cancer, and death, I might have run away scared.  I am not sure if I could have handled knowing what was ahead when I was 23 years old.  But in hindsight, I know I would not give up a minute of the time that we had together for an easier road.

The road ahead is always uncertain.  And sometimes we can look down two paths and see difficulty ahead.  It may appear that one path is straight and narrow, no pain in sight.  We may long to run down that path as fast as we can towards the beautiful, picturesque horizon.  But even the path that is beautifully well laid out may have potholes and struggles around the first scenic curve. (1)

The choice of which path to take some days reminds me so much of my Christian walk.  Deciding which road to take may seem so clear, but that doesn’t always mean it will be easy.  Regardless of the path we choose, we will likely face some kind of difficulty.  But if we are heading down the path that the Lord has for us, we will never regret it.

I am trying not to avoid the scary unknown these days.  I am trusting and believing that whatever path God leads me down will be full of happiness and joy… but if not, I know He is still good and I will look back with no regrets, thankful for the beautiful scenery that I was able to see while navigating the broken way.

When I was in high school, I loved the poem, “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost.  I had it memorized and can still recite it when something or someone brings it to mind…

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

                     Some days I truly do believe that taking the easy, predictable road would save me so much pain and heartache.  Yet, I am thankful that God allowed me to experience 15 years of happiness with a few struggles mixed in to know that even a painful, less traveled road is worth every obstruction that we have to navigate along the way.  I don’t shy away from the broken, twisted road anymore.  I know that on that broken path, so much beauty and love can be found.  We only have to open ourselves up to receive it.

Lord, send me… just not there…

If I’m being complete honest, I have to admit that sometimes I’m scared to be used by the Lord.  I’m scared of the effort that it will take, I’m scared of how far it will stretch me.  And I’m scared that it will take me to places where I am not comfortable going.

I try to wake up saying, Lord please use me for your glory… and by the end of the day I am saying, but please not there Lord.  I will do anything, but do I have to do that?

Some days I struggle with the people I come in contact with and I think, surely Lord you don’t want me to be nice to them?  I want to serve you and be a witness, but surely I don’t have to have a relationship with them to do that.  I want to run in the other direction.  I don’t want to be stretched that far.  I don’t want to have to constantly be in prayer that I will hold my tongue and not say what I think.

I (maybe naively) have always thought of myself as someone who was fairly easy to get along with.  Yet there have definitely been some relationships in my life that have really stretched me.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were times when I wondered if those relationships were worth it and whether just cutting all ties would make life easier.

There are times when I feel like God has directed someone into my life so that we can be a mutual blessing to each other and I have turned to run in the other direction because I didn’t want to deal with the fact that a relationship with them comes along with some added baggage.  Baggage that I feel isn’t worth the added stress.

A few weeks ago as I pondered turning to run from one of those relationships, the story of Jonah resonated with me.  God called Jonah to a task he had no interest in completing.  He told him to go to Ninevah and preach against the wickedness there.  And Jonah didn’t want to.  But the Bible doesn’t say Jonah ran away from the hard task when he refused to do what the Lord called him to do.  Instead Jonah 1:3 says, “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.”

Whoa.  Um, so when I refuse to love those unlovable people that God has called me to love… I’m actually running away from Him?  That definitely puts my heart in check a little bit (ok… a lot).  God didn’t call me to only do that which is easy.  He didn’t promise me that there wouldn’t be seasons in my life where I am stretched a little.  And while I find myself fighting to bite my tongue a lot more these days, I know that those relationships that I am trying to kindle are worth it.  And God is teaching me so much during this season about how to love Him, and love others, and about how to look for the good in the people that I’m around.

It isn’t easy, and there are still days when I find myself having to put myself in check before I say something that I shouldn’t, but I am learning that during these seasons of stretching that God is teaching me to rely solely on Him.  And not only that, I find myself in a constant state of prayer, asking that He will guide my thoughts and my actions towards Him in all that I say and do.

 

john 15_12

Anyone else feel like God is calling them to do something that they just aren’t ready or willing to do?  I’m praying that God will show you the rewards of obedience and how to rely on Him, even when the task seems impossible.

Is it okay to be okay after losing someone?

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.
Psalm 30_5

Father to the Fatherless…

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.

THe Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow.Psalm 146_9

***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.***