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!
I remember sitting in the office with the grief counselor in the fall and laughing when she told me I needed to lower my expectations. “You are expecting too much of yourself,” she said. “In this season, it is okay to just survive, and not thrive.” I very literally laughed at her. What she was telling me went against everything I have been taught and believed up until that point and I told her that is not how I face things.
If there is anything I learned from Ben throughout over a decade of marriage it is that you don’t do things halfway. You give everything you face, everything you’ve got. I thought grief would be the same way… I would just choose to fight against it and overcome it the way I have fought to overcome every other trial I have faced the past. 1 Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
I really thought I could give grief my all and come out ahead of everyone else who suffered a great loss. But as my 6 year old frequently tells me, “I stand corrected.” I was wrong. Grief is not something that you just wish away and it goes. No matter how much you push it away it hits you again when you least expect it. And you have to let it run its course…
So with the help of a few close friends, last fall I learned to lower my expectations. And for a few months, I was happy to just survive. If the kids were fed and clothed, I considered a day a success… no matter what they were wearing, and no matter what I fed them. I learned what things had to be accomplished, and I did them. And everything else I decided to let slide for a while. It was healing to throw out all my expectations and just live life for a few months.
But I woke up in January and my expectations were back… I decided that even if the grief wasn’t gone, it was time for me to thrive. My children needed me, I needed me, and I wanted us to start to do more than just survive. Job 14:7 says, “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.” I am ready for the Lord to allow me to grow again, to flourish, and to thrive.
I have met a lot of grieving friends during the past six months, and I have found myself repeating that counselor’s advice over and over. Telling them that it is okay to throw their expectations out the window and just survive this season. It won’t last forever, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t believe God can bring them through it. It just means that for a season, it is okay to just make it through the day.
I believe that we are all faced with those seasons at some point in time. Those are the seasons we are happy to just have survived. Seasons it was impossible to thrive through. But I encourage you to not allow yourself to stay there. Our pastor in New York started every service with the reminder that it is okay to not be okay—but it’s not okay to stay there. I get it now in a way that I never did before… and if you are in a season like that right now, I would love to pray for you. You can send me a message here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m cheering for you and praying that whatever season you are just surviving is short and that you will allow God to bring you out of it!
Tuesday was a day filled with emotions for me… we designed and ordered the headstone that will mark the place where Ben is buried for hopefully the rest of time. It was both an emotional task and a healing one. How do you decide what to say about someone who meant so much to so many people? His mom and I talked about the scriptures and the quotes that we would love included as a reflection of him and there was only one that came to mind for me, 2 Timothy 4:7. There was healing in knowing that years from now people will be able to see how loved and cherished he was.
Tuesday also marked five years since Benjamin’s first brain surgery (and today marks only two years since his last surgery). I can still remember the hours sitting in the waiting room at Vanderbilt waiting for them to call me to the lobby phone for updates from the doctor. I can recall the flood of emotions as I left my two barely one year olds at home to travel to Nashville and face the unknown. And I can still see the faces of the friends and family who gathered to sit and pray with me during the wait.
We had no idea what the next five years would hold for us, but we trusted a God who we knew would bring us out on the other side. The weeks to come were filled with appointments and decisions and in the end we were told that even with the recommended treatment he would only have 1-2 years before there would be nothing left that the doctors could do. Ben faced the news with grace and with faith that God was in control of it, just like he did with everything in life.
I don’t remember a day going by in the next 4.5 years when we didn’t pray and thank God for Ben’s healing. He long outlived the doctor’s prognosis and he lived his life well and to the fullest. He never stopped believing he would be healed and often last summer I would hear him tell people that his latest scans were coming back clean. Not for one minute did he doubt that God was going to heal him. He had more faith than anyone I have ever met. And I think he knew his healing was coming… even though it wasn’t in the way we expected it to happen.
He fought cancer long and hard, and he gave it his all… just like he did everything in life. His healing didn’t come in the way we expected, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is completely healed from head to toe. It has been a long five years and at the same time, it has flown by. For four and a half years cancer defined everything we did. And even now, I find that it defines what I do some days… whether through the choices I make to eat well or to eat poorly; and through the things I am willing to expose myself and the kids to. I pray that as time passes we will be able to forget some of the affect that cancer had on our lives, but I pray that Ben is never forgotten by me, my children, or anyone else that loved him. He fought long and hard, and with a smile on his face trusting in a God who would eventually bring him healing. He finished the race and never gave up on his faith. If my children can see the impact of that on my life, and on theirs I will feel like I have truly succeeded as a parent.
Do you ever worry that you are heading in the wrong direction? Last spring, I was leaving an observation in downtown Cincinnati and took a wrong turn. I immediately saw signs welcoming me to Kentucky and knew I had gone the wrong way. The traffic made it hard to get back on the right path, so I turned on the GPS to guide me back to where I was supposed to be.
I was distracted because my heart was hurting and so many other things were going through my head when I should have been paying attention to the path that I was on. However, it got me thinking. If only it was that easy to change direction in life when you get on the wrong road and you’re heading the wrong way. If only it was that easy to take the next exit and turn around to head back in the right direction.
I learned that day that it wasn’t that easy. Sometimes, one wrong turn leads to another wrong turn, which in turn leads to another poor choice, and before you know it, you are further from your destination then when you started. Last spring, I was praying for a GPS for life. There were so many decisions looming overhead regarding treatment for Ben, and I was scared we would make the wrong choice. I wanted a voice to tell me every time I made a wrong turn or bad decision. I wanted it to put me on the right road heading in the right direction.
The beauty of GPS is that it corrects me and sends me back in the direction I want to be heading. And it’s immediate. The minute you make a wrong turn, it tells you that you are off track. You may lose a few minutes of time, but if you are lucky, you can get right back on track and make it to your destination without too many mishaps.
I find myself worrying a lot these days about making the wrong decision and heading down the wrong path. I spend a lot of time praying that I will open my Bible and see a GPS guiding me to the next turn. I sat reflecting on all of that today and I have come to three conclusions:
I still wish I had some set in stone directions that told me which turns to make and when. That’s mostly because I can’t always see the destination. I want to know where I am heading and what turns I have to make to get there. And some days, I am ready to take any shortcut that I can to reach that shiny flag on the final screen.
But I feel like I have reached a new season and a new place in this journey of life. It’s a season where I have realized that we can’t live life stressing about whether I am making the right or wrong choice. I can’t live in fear of making the wrong decision. In fact, every wrong turn I have made in the past, has helped me to learn a valuable lesson. Instead of fearing more wrong turns, I just need to pray and trust that God will be my GPS when I need him… even if He does decide to guide me only one turn at a time. I might still fear not knowing the destination, but I am determined to enjoy every turn and to appreciate every road He leads me down to get to that shiny flag at the end of the road.
I think that a part of me has lived in fear since the day my kids were born, maybe even since the day I found out I was expecting them. Fear of miscarriage and loss, fear of sickness and them getting hurt, fear of something happening to me and leaving them behind. These days I fear leaving them with someone that might hurt them, or that I might not be strong enough to take care of them on my own. Mommy fear is a real thing (maybe dads have some of these fears too) and I worried this past fall that I may never truly trust them with anyone else again. Then in December, I picked up Brave Mom, Brave Kids, by Lee Nienhuis and allowed it to completely transform my thinking.
Lee is a mom of four who lives in West Michigan with her farmer-husband. She is a few years ahead of me in this journey of parenting, but is still learning as she goes, just like we all are! In her book, Lee talks about us surrendering our children to the Lord and allowing Him to use them for His purpose. She reminds us that when God asks us to surrender something to his purposes, He will provide both the means and the strength for us to do it. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from the chapter on surrender and states, “God does not promise our families perfect health, financial prosperity, worldly success, or even safety in the world. He will not hand us back everything we lay down. Some of the most godly families I know have faced unspeakable loss. Christ shows us, though, that although God may choose suffering for us, we can entrust to Him everything of great worth, knowing He truly empathizes with our pain, knows the depth of the darkness it may cause, and walks with us through it. During our darkest hour, we may find a depth of fellowship with our Savior we would know in no other way.”
I have learned the depths of what sacrifice and surrender are the past few months and while I desperately want to hold close to my children and protect them, I know that strong heroes of the faith are not sheltered and protected. Instead they are equipped and encouraged and given the tools that they need to fight against whatever comes their way. As their mom, it is my job to make sure my children are equipped for this never ending battle. And if I don’t teach them that following Jesus is going to be a battle, they will never survive the fight.
The truth of the scripture is that God will equip both us and them for the fight. We just have to be brave enough to pray for them, equip them, and then be willing to release them to fly. In the second half of her book, Lee outlines seven key lessons that we need to teach our children in order to prepare them for a life of serving Jesus! I encourage you to pick up this book and read it; either on your own, with a spouse, or with a group of friends. If you are anything like me you will find yourself both convicted (of not praying for my kids enough) and encouraged (to equip them to grow stronger in the faith). This is a scary world, and no one is better to prepare them for it then us! Be brave, be a hero, and fight for your kids.
***I received an advance copy of this book to review, but the thoughts included are my own. I have another copy of the book to give away and you can enter to win it by commenting below on the blog with why you would love to read the book, or about someone you would love to win the book for! I will choose a winner Saturday evening January 13th, 2018 and will announce it on the blog as well!
If you don’t win, the book will be for sale at the beginning of February, but you can order your copy now from https://www.amazon.com/Brave-Moms-Kids-Battle-Raising/dp/0736970037 I would love to know what you think if you read it!
Do you know what it means to live a life of intention? The dictionary defines intentional as, “done on purpose, deliberate.” Things that you do with meaning and on purpose! Days will sometimes go by when I feel like every intention I had flew out the window. I make plans and do not follow through, and put off til tomorrow what I don’t have to do today. This season has been one of throwing all my good intentions out the window, seriously. The only thing I feel like I have done with intention over the past few months was keep breathing (and eat chocolate).
Since Ben’s death my heart has been heavy for my children and what the future looks like for them. We live in a scary world, one where no one is safe from sickness, loss, and grief. I have felt the burden of being the single big influence in their life and the stress of what a load that is to carry. With that in mind, I decided several weeks ago that my goal for 2018 was to be a more intentional parent. Even though I have more time for my children now than ever before, I am realizing how little time I truly spend intentionally with them.
The other day my daughter wrote me a book. It was entitled, “How Daddy Got Sick.” It was painful to read and it left me in tears as I read about how she believed he got sick and died. I remembered that I am not the only one grieving this massive loss… they too feel the influence of it in their young minds. It is my job to determine what they do with that loss and how they move forward from here. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
So I came up with four reasons why I want to parent more intentionally in 2018:
Do you parent with intention? Do you live a life of intention in other areas? I’ve been convicted about quite a few areas the past few weeks and am determined that this will be the year I start living my life intentionally… both as a parent, as a child of God, and as someone who values their own life and the lives that the Lord has blessed me with.
If you are someone who struggles in this area, or who feels they are really strong in this area, I would love if you would share with me about your journey! I am praying that this year you will find something in your life that you can do with intention!
**If you are looking for a great resource on intentional parenting, there are two great books coming out soon that I have the privilege of reading advance copies of! Brave Moms, Brave Kids by Lee Nienhuis & 936 Pennies by Eryn Lynum! I can’t recommend them enough!
I’m not really one for making New Year’s resolutions. Goals that will be broken and plans that I know I will struggle to follow through on. But, after a difficult 2016 God laid on my heart that 2017 needed to be a year of joy for me. I prayed about it, thought about it and meditated on that word for much of early 2017. And God truly did honor my request and help me to choose joy on days where I just didn’t think it was possible. There were times after Ben passed away that I thought choosing joy was just not going to happen again; and then days where God gave me immeasurable strength to find the good in something I had almost missed. And while I wasn’t always successful, there are three reasons why I am glad that I chose this year of all years to choose joy.
2017 was a year of both trial and joy and I am incredibly thankful for the lesson God started teaching me about joy before the biggest trials hit. If you are going through a rough season, I encourage you to try to live a life of joy this coming year. You will be surprised by how much God blesses you, and in the ways it will bless those around you too! Because “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
***Here are a few of the verses about joy that have encouraged me in my journey this year:
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