Staying out of the pit of “what if”

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

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!

God didn’t promise that life would be fair…

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.

God didn't promise life would be fair

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.

Does God give us more than we can handle?

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.”

romans 1_9

Under Pressure

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.

Deliverance

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.

 

Only the lonely… a new me…

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.

psalm 305b

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 😉

When do we let go of grief?

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 Lowered My Expectations…

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 blessingsinraindrops@outlook.com.  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!

Keeping the faith…

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.

2 Timothy 4_7

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.