Author: Nicole Hastings

Does prayer really work?


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”-Albert Einstein


I usually wait for movies to come out on DVD so I’m a little behind with what’s out, but I recently just watched the movie Miracles from Heaven. It was a powerful and uplifting movie based on a true story of miraculous healing. Miracle stories are amazing every time, but hearing them when you yourself did not get the miracle is, admittedly so, hard to swallow. Whenever I hear of miracle stories I genuinely feel in awe, but a little selfishly thinking on the side “Well…I prayed, my husband prayed, everyone prayed and he still died.” The next day, I found out someone else who leaned on prayer for a miracle did not receive it either and I’m heartbroken. It’s human to think when tragedy strikes, “Does prayer really work? And if it does, why didn’t it work for me (or fill in the name)?” The power of prayer is so easy to praise when “it works” in our favor when the scans are clear and you are stamped “cured,” when the marriage is restored, when someone’s life is spared in a horrendous car accident, but what happens when we pray and pray and pray and the divorce is still finalized, the husband or wife still cheats, the healing doesn’t come and death steals another loved one, one can’t help but to feel more than a little jipped, thinking, “I’m happy for them, truly, but why not me?” It’s a little too easy for us to say, “Prayer didn’t work for me.” I’ve heard that a lot and I’ve said it a lot. I’ve heard, “I tried the whole prayer-thing—it didn’t work.” “I’m praying and I’m still not being healed, I guess I’m not doing it right.” “All I did was pray, I did the right thing, and he still left me.” “I prayed and claimed healing, just like the Bible said to do, and I’m still planning a funeral…” It’d be too logical and easy to just conclude that prayer doesn’t “work.”


We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite him to walk through our circumstances.


So, there’s a clear dilemma, why does prayer “work” for some people, but from the outside it looks like it didn’t “work” for others? I am by no means a theologian or expert in prayer, but the wording, I believe, is the problem not prayer. The word “work.” There are lots of uses for the word “work:” I think when people refer to prayer “not working” we’re focusing on the definition that work means*:

  • to bring about (any result) by or as by work or effort:
  • to work a change.
  • to manipulate or treat by labor:
  • to put into effective operation.
  • to operate for productive purposes:

Key words in these definitions are: effort, change, manipulate, effective operation, to operate for productive purposes, results—you get the gist. Based on using “work” in the latter contexts maybe it would be logical to say I didn’t get the results I wanted therefore prayer didn’t work. But what if we pray in order for God’s will to “work” in our lives, according to the above definitions and instead view our part of prayer as “working” in the definitions that are to follow. That’s not to say we can’t request or go to God with our desires and needs, all with the remembrance that our worldy wants and needs may look differently than God’s sovereign knowledge of our needs and the bigger picture that includes His will, not ours.  So another definition of “work” is also “a literary or musical composition or other piece of fine art—‘a work of art’” or “A defensive structure” or “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change” or “everything needed, desired or expected.”

Here are some more definitions of this expansive word*:

  • to act or operate effectively:
  • to attain a specified condition, as by repeated movement
  • to have an effect or influence, as on a person or on the mind or feelings of a person.
  • to move in agitation, as the features under strong emotion.

I was incredibly grateful that the movie, Miracles from Heaven, showed the real struggle with faith during crisis and I felt both comforted and sad when, in one of the scenes, some “church people” asked the mother if there was something she had done wrong which might by why her 10-year-old daughter was gravely ill. Comforted because I could feel the pain watching that scene and sad because I could relate to the pain watching that scene. When my husband was dying of cancer, I occasionally had run-ins with well-meaning advice that turned out to really damage my prayer life. Comments and advice like: “Have you prayed over him?” “Have you claimed it in prayer?” “You’re not positive enough…” “you’re fearful, you’re not praying with enough faith” all the way to “you’re not even supposed to utter the ‘C’ word (Cancer).” Of course, we had done all of the above and kept the “C” word quiet for most of our marriage and yet, it still progressed. After his death, illnesses swept my household. Myself and my kids over and over again suffered from chronic respiratory illnesses, one which landed my newborn in the intensive care unit with RSV. My mom, who was my refuge in the storm, was laid out for almost two months because of an emergency surgery and I don’t think I ever got a full-night’s sleep for almost two years after because of anxiety and stress on my part and my kids night-terrors and a newborn baby waking at night for a bottle. It seemed all I could do was pray. Sometimes the prayer was only sobbing and crying, not even able to get a single word out of my mouth, sometimes I was so angry I yelled my prayers, sometimes the prayers were not in what I said or how I said it, but more how I said nothing at all because I had no idea what to pray for anymore (Romans 8:26).

But I do have a confession to make, I didn’t start to grasp what prayer really meant until recently, and even more-so now thanks to this awesome movie and meeting some truly amazing and inspiring prayer warriors in this journey from the land of the bereaved to the land of the joyful. To be honest I was really really confused about prayer and, if I’m honest a little bit resentful, because of the conflicting beliefs that I had about it. I even find myself struggling to tell someone who tells me they are ill or hurt that I will pray for their healing, the struggle is real. I am overcoming my “issues” with praying working or not working and I can only conclude that #1 I don’t have to feel ashamed by my “issues” with prayer, only that it drives me to seek God more and #2 despite my feelings on the subject at times, that prayer has one truth and that it “works” every time (James 5:16). It can fit almost any definition of “work” but that’s up to God, not me. Prayer can at times become a “work” of art or masterpiece, it can “work” as a defensive structure against our enemies—even ourselves at times, it can be the moving vehicle that “works” with the force of overcoming resistance.” And the act of truly “praying it down” as my therapist called it can produce  “the works”—everything desired, needed or expected which are the promised results: closeness, dependence and praise for God despite outcome. We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite Him to walk through our circumstances. That, in itself, is a miracle.

 

 

*All definitions obtained from Dictionary.com and Yahoo search definition

Back to school: Writing “Deceased” instead of your name

It’s the first week of school for my kindergartners and preschooler. It’s a buzzing season of new school clothes, new light-up shoes and lists of blue folders, sharpened pencils and washable markers. Butterflies in tummies and holding back tears—for both kids and momma. The first couple nights were filling out paperwork. Name. Address. Phone number. Mother’s contact. And then the next line always gets me. Father’s contact. Instead of writing your name, I have to write “deceased.” I could have chosen to just leave it blank, but I need people to know you existed. I wish I could have just written your name. I wish there were more lines to write about how your smile lit up the room and your laugh was contagious, how you were stubborn as hell and how, when people look at your boys, they are looking at you only years younger. But I can’t and even if I did, it wouldn’t change the fact that you’re not here. It won’t change the fact that no matter how much I talk about you, no one will really know you the way I knew you. I try to keep your memory alive, even if it’s just a mention on a contact page. At the doctor’s office, at school, at the dentist… writing something, anything, in that blank spot still means you were here and you are remembered. Writing ‘deceased’ means you lived and your life mattered to many­–to my life and the three little lives we made together. I wonder if I’ll stop pausing when I get to that blank line someday. If I’ll have to stop explaining to the teachers why my children talk about death so freely and why I encourage them to. Explaining that I hope their talk and play doesn’t bother the other children whose parents may have only taught them their goldfish “fell asleep” or was simply replaced by a look-alike. I wonder if it’ll ever stop stinging when seeing the dads picking up their kiddos from school, watching their children wrap their arms around their chests. I wonder if I’ll always keep wondering if my daughter will ever experience that…

All I know is that in this new and exciting chapter of our lives, when the kids go to school and meet new friends and learn new things, I’m, for the first time, alone in a quiet house. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for a long time. A little quiet time for momma to breathe, maybe sleep a little more, and to miss you without being on a 15-30-minute time limit with three little kids under six. But now that the chapter’s here, there’s an ache in my heart for you and my kiddos who are moving forward with their growing lives, and I’m here holding their hands along the way, dreaming you were here to hold our hands too…but when I wake up, it’s quiet and lonely and I’m writing ‘deceased’ instead of your name.

I’m moving forward, but I’m not going fishing: On death of a spouse, moving forward, dating and the awkwardness of it all

Literally a week or so after my husband’s death, I heard (on more than one occasion): “Oh you’re young, you’ll find another dad for your kids” and “You just need to go have a one-night stand.” I was a 28-year-old widow and new mom, and I most certainly was not in the right frame of mind to even respond to comments like that then, but I’ve had almost three years to ponder it and this is what I’ve come to:

Death of a spouse, especially a young spouse, does not warrant the encouraging, “Hey, chin up kid, there’s more fish in the sea” pep-talk as if I had just broken up with a high school sweetheart. When I broke up with my high school sweetheart, I was absolutely crushed, yes, but there were more fish in the sea. Fish after fish I caught and threw back (or vice versa) until I waded up calmly to the one who’d eventually be my husband. There was no finding and searching and catching and games, he was just there waiting to be taken. And there we were, swimming together upstream. Then he died. Now, almost three years later, I’ve found myself ready to swim upstream…alone, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “moving on” doesn’t always have to equate to “starting to date.” I’ve come to my own truth, for me, that before even thinking about “dating” (what is that, even?! Agh, haven’t done that since 22!) I must move forward by myself while pursuing my God and discovering the transformed woman I’ve become because of my husband’s death. Not because I asked for it, but because I was forced to adapt. I was suddenly thrown into to discover the new role I would have as a mother to two-year-old twins and a newborn on my own while clomping through the mud of complicated grief, PTSD and adrenal fatigue. In no way was I, over the past two years, in mental shape to even consider taking on anyone else while I was still grappling and hanging on to all that had happened to me in a very short amount of time. It wouldn’t be fair to all those new “fish”…and it wouldn’t be fair to me. Believe me, going to bed alone in my high school bedroom in my parent’s house by myself every night is beyond lonely, but I don’t want to fill that space just to fill a space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting high and mighty and signing up for a convent, and I’m certainly not judging others’ choices to date or not date, I’m really not, but, for me, being alone with God and God alone right now is more comfortable to me than any man’s arms; I’ve concluded it has to be that way before I can consider inviting someone into my life. Really, anyone who may come along must be willing to move forward along with me in the high, sometimes turbulent waves I find myself in every day. I am not waiting in the shallow end for someone to come along and help me move; to rescue me.  Through moments of intense loneliness and eagerness to get out of my situation as fast as I could, I tried making online profiles, I tried coming up with something to say on the “About me” page…there always ended up being too much to say, too much I didn’t want to say, and too much I was just too tired to say. Well, I ended up deleting said profile…four times. My not being ready was an understatement. I was so far from ready to start even considering dating, I was still re-living my husband’s death and every event and heartbreak every single day. From the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, I couldn’t break the cycle. Not until recently, when I had come to terms with the fact that I was struggling with PTSD and complicated grief, did I realize I couldn’t move forward while reliving a past I couldn’t change.  Asking someone to enter into that cycle of mine, would quickly turn into a downward spiral, I’m sure of it.

This summer has been a summer of successful and hard work processing the traumatic events that surrounded my husband’s death (see “The Final Goodbye”), and I’m finally getting relief from the burden I’ve been carrying for far too long, but there’s still more work and healing that needs to happen before I can “spread my wings and fly.” Does living at my parent’s home with my three children under six make me feel like a successful adult? Not exactly, but is it what I need right now to get the rest, contemplation and processing I need? Absolutely. And there’s no rushing a process, especially if it’s God’s. And it’s always God’s process. I often picture, how would it look if I invited someone into this process?

“Oh, hi, you want to go on a date? Let me schedule you for some time next month between naptime and laundry.”

“Oh, hi, you want to take me to a movie? Hang on, let me ask my mom and dad…”

“Oh hi, thank you for your interest. I will always be in love with a 34-year-old man who was my husband, if that’s OK with you…”

I kid, I kid…but not really. Coming to terms with being comfortable in your own skin while healing so many wounds that will always leave a scar behind is tough, exhausting work and I’m ok with working on my own. Until I become comfortable with taking the life preserver off and stop treading water, there is no energy for fishing in these waters. And besides, I’m such a hopeless romantic I envision I’ll be back-stroking my way through life with my three little minnows and the serendipitous meeting would go like this…

I’m at a park and he’s walking his dog. Our eyes meet. I pet his dog and he asks, “Oh are you a mom? I love kids! I especially love preschoolers!”

And I’ll smirk and shyly push my hair that has remained un-showered for two days behind my ears and shuffle my feet with my old, holey sneakers and yoga pants and point to my three children: one boy peeing on a tree, the other picking up goose poop and hurling it across the playground and then my sweet daughter picking a lollipop up off the ground and sticking it in her mouth—dirt, ants and all.

And he’ll fall in love with all four of us and we’ll live happily ever after… (record screech) (Enter reality)

Ok, for real, putting jokes and self-deprecation aside, I’m just moving forward my little family of four, not searching, not fishing, no net in hand. Not waiting for an eddy, not waiting for a shallow end, not waiting on the side of the riverbank to be rescued. Here we are, me and my little minnows and we “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” All I’m aiming at is to float peacefully as we’re carried by the current of life, as opposed to violently thrashing and swimming for my survival. Moving forward for me, means moving toward God. That’s all I want, to learn to be carried by waters so much bigger and awesome than this world can offer. There’s no saying what will come along, but whatever it is, it will accept us for all that we are—dirty lollipops and tree-peeing included.

I don’t want to have fun with my kids

It was the end of Spring Break week, my twin preschoolers and two-year-old was home with me all week and everyone had been under the weather so I had cabin fever. That Friday we were all on the mend and I was bound and determined to go do something “fun” with the kids. I chose the Museum of Natural History because we had free passes.

With three little kids, it takes about two hours to get ready to go anywhere, so I needed to keep giving myself a pep-talk throughout the process—“Come on, Nicole, you can do it. You HAVE to go do something fun because that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be—FUN!” Farther into the getting ready process, the pep talks slowly started to sound more like me trying to convince myself this would be FUN. Lunches and snacks packed—check. Extra pull-ups and extra changes of clothes—check. Everyone pick a toy to bring for the long ride—after running around, a few tears and a minor crisis—check. Everyone in the car buckled up—check. I get into the van and then get right back out because I forgot to feed myself that morning so I needed to grab something, anything, to eat. Run back into the house, grab a banana and a handful of almonds. On the way back out to the car, I realized I forgot the free passes. Run back into the house to grab free passes. Lock the door and get in the van. Keys in the ignition—check. Off we went to have some FUN.

My kiddos aren’t the most tolerable when it comes to long distance transportation—for them fifteen minutes is long distance—so there’s always a little sense of urgency and panic driving an hour away because almost anything and everything could happen in that timeframe. Bathroom emergencies, squabbles, tears, and sickness…you’re always on the brink of being prepared for something to happen. Safe to say, we got to the museum parking lot in one piece, unscathed by any serious issues. With relief and pride I patted myself on the back for having made it and thought, “Hey that wasn’t so bad…” My heart sunk as I saw the parking lot, jam-packed with cars waiting in rows for a space to open up. We spent thirty minutes driving around and around until I victoriously found a spot. Phew. We made it. Kids out. Snack bags over the shoulder. Heavy two-year-old in one arm, the other is filled with coats for “just in case” weather that is always a possibility in Denver. My apparent need for fitness was blaring as I’m getting out of breath and breaking a minor sweat while I make my way up to the entrance with kids in tow. We did it! I glanced down to make sure the tickets were still in my purse and noticed something I hadn’t before—they had expired. Morale was low at this point, but not totally crashed, so onward into the entrance. Then I saw it. (If a defeated, frustrated, crying, yawning emoticon existed, insert it here.) The lines were wrapped around to form a maze of barriers. There were people everywhere and my pep talks were no more. Now my thoughts were only, “This is NOT fun…” But I was still determined to get through the lines and go through the museum, because my stubborn nature dared me to leave, and my conscience dared me to play with the idea that I am just not a fun mom. We stood in line for thirty-ish minutes because I kept having to leave the line to chase after the two-year-old. I was trying to keep up everyone’s spirits, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed how everyone else’s kids seemed to be angels standing in line, while mine were uncontainable monkeys swinging from one rope to the other in excitement. Then the “I have to go potty” plea rang in my ears. We left the line to head for the bathrooms. My twin boys don’t want to go into the “girly bathroom” anymore, so they insisted on going into the “Man one.” Needing to take my two-year-old daughter potty, not to mention myself, had to wait so I could make sure BOTH boys came out of the restroom. (My Mom-radar is on high-alert!) Men went in and men came out, but not my boys…I could hear them singing, and giggling and turning the hand-dryer on and off and on again. Every five seconds I’d crack the door open and request their presence; ultimately knowing I’d just have to wait. When we were finally reunited, the task of going into the women’s restroom had just begun. I ended up convincing them to go into the women’s restroom with me anyway because there was no way I was leaving two five-year-olds to wait outside (I’ve binge watched way too many drama/crime shows to make me paranoid enough to not do that!) We made our way into the women’s restroom, alas! There’s another line. We finally got through the business that needed to be done and headed back out to stand in line, because, dammit, we were going to have FUN!

Since our visit was no longer free, I had to swallow hard as I tallied up how much it was going to cost all four of us to get in. I couldn’t really afford to have all this fun we were about to have, but I reasoned that a) it would be cheaper to get a museum pass, and b) the membership line was way shorter, so we chose that line. As we stood in line, the kids got more anxious and excited, and I felt my blood pressure was rising. “Just get through the line, and it’ll all be OK.” Then one of my boys grabbed the other and head-butt him. With tears from one, laughter from the other, and my two-year-old squirming out of my arms to go explore, I had finally reached my breaking point. “Ok, that’s it—we’re leaving!” I stepped out of line and started for the exit with protests trailing behind me. The boys were crying the whole way back, but I just kept saying to them, “That wasn’t fun. We’ll try again…” (Thanks Love&Logic!) Truth was I felt like crying too. I felt like the biggest failure. Truth was that for so long “fun” wasn’t even on my radar—being the caregiver of my husband with terminal cancer, and twins and a newborn all at once—now the dust of grief finally began to settle, and I couldn’t do this one thing. Would I ever be able to have fun? Would I be the uptight, serious mom forever?

Everyone had quieted down on the return drive and we ended up stopping at the local mall with the free play place. I let the kids run around as we played tickle monster and hide-and-seek. We stopped for a small treat of M&M cookies and sat at the table trying to count how many birds got stuck in the mall , which would swoop around overhead once in a while.

That night as I was putting my boys to sleep, I apologized for the museum-thing not panning out and we talked about manners in public and maybe next time we could try again. I tucked one of my boys in and I told him, “I’m sorry we didn’t really have fun today,” and he replied, “I had a lot of fun!”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “What part was fun to you?”

“My favorite part was doing the puzzle with you,” he said, drifting off to sleep. I was stumped. I didn’t remember doing a puzzle until he said something. Before all the chaos of getting ready and out the door, we sat on the floor in our jammies doing a puzzle together. It took 15 minutes to put together that puzzle and it took me all day in my mission to “have FUN” with my kids. He remembered the 15 quiet minutes we spent together. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to have the kind of “fun” with my kids that I pressure myself into—expensive outings, spending money I really don’t have to spend in the first place. The kind of “fun” that I fake smile the whole time because I’m so tired from making sure we’re all together and alive in busy public places. The kind of “fun” I force upon myself because I feel like I have to compensate for their dad not being here and they’re stuck with me—sometimes sad, sometimes irritable, sometimes too-serious mommy.

My son taught me something so profound about my kids and myself. The fun times remembered and cherished are the times spent just being together. Being in each other’s presence. It could be at a park, it could be putting away laundry while pretending socks are silly puppets; it could be holding hands walking to school. This realization took the pressure off me to stop attempting to do activities I just can’t do with my kids in this season—as a grieving, widowed mom, whose outings with my kids I have to do solo, not to mention they’re 5, 5 and 2…little kids come with so much grace and so little expectation. All they want is time with you, time together. All the other high blood pressure moments we parents put on ourselves are lost to them in grace.

One day museums will be fun. One day I will be able to take them to a movie theater with ease. One day we can take a road trip. One day we can go to Disney World and have some serious Fun. But not now. Not in this season. Now, I’m OK with puzzles in our jammies, digging worms in the backyard and spending a couple bucks to eat ice cream in the park, because those are the moment my kids cherish. That’s the kind of fun I’m after now, and I know my kids will show me I can be a fun mom.

 

The Final Goodbye: Coming to terms with my husband’s death and how it wasn’t my fault


“She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written words, but only by personal growth and development in understanding and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.”

-Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds feet on High Places”


 

My husband has been dead two years now, and I still cringe when I hear the comment, “Well, at least you knew he was sick, at least you had time to say ‘Goodbye,’” which is an unfair assumption, because I didn’t. I didn’t have time to say ‘Goodbye’ because we weren’t encouraged to allow space for the reality of what saying ‘Goodbye’ would really mean. We were surrounded by a doctrine that if illness was talked about, we were in some way holding back the blessing of healing. We were surrounded by phrases like, “Just believe in healing…” “Just minister to it (the cancer)…just lay hands…” “Don’t ever say the ‘C’ word…” “Claim healing and it will be yours!” “Just believe…”…and we did, all of the above, over and over and over. Call it the “Name-it-Claim-it theology” or “The Prosperity Gospel theology” or “just-plain-crazy theology,” but whatever it was it was under the giant umbrella of hope, and it was hope that helped my husband get through the first five years of his cancer diagnosis in his early 20s and it helped us make it through the four years of our marriage. (After all, he did live with a disease for ten years that statistically should have killed him in six months.) It helped us cling to hope, it helped us find faith, it gave us fuel to fight…until…it didn’t. When the foundation of all we were taught to say was crumbling around us, and no matter how much we “claimed” healing, it seemed the opposite was happening. All of a sudden I was faced with the reality of death and the burden of giant questions that emerged when the box we had put God in was ripped wide open. I had to ask the questions: Is there more to hope than this? Is there more to the idea of time than what we think we know? I had to swallow that even in the midst of hope, the gift of our time here on Earth is finite, no matter how long or short. It’s not something we earn by how well we pray or believe, the time that’s given is already there, already waiting for us.

Let me preface by saying, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the hope and expectancy for healing—people have conquered incredible feats with hope– but it’s not hope if it leaves someone feeling guilty or ashamed or forsaken when life doesn’t play out the way we wanted it to. Through the last two weeks of my husband’s life I was told that his healing wasn’t happening because I wasn’t peaceful enough about the situation. I was told that I shouldn’t tell anyone my husband was in hospice, that I should take down the online updates about our family because it wasn’t anyone else’s business, and that the words ‘cancer’ and ‘hospice’ made people give up hope and think negatively. I was told to tell people that my husband was “doing just fine” in his last days. All of this confusing theology swirling in my ears and around in my head resulted in an incredible burden shackled to my feet. I was tormented by “What ifs”: If I had said ‘Goodbye’ then, would that mean his death would be my fault? If I prayed for his suffering to end, did that mean I was giving up on him? Did that mean I was a failure at praying for my husband? Did it mean he just didn’t believe enough—that I didn’t believe enough? I know better now, and I know God a whole lot better now too, but when the opportunity was still there, because we wanted to cling to hope so badly, there was no final ‘Goodbye,’ no special moments that gave any ”closure”—the kind people expect in a long illness, you know, “The Fault in Our Stars” kind of thing. There was certainly no using the ‘D’(death) word. No one, not even the hospice workers, explained what ‘5 Wishes’ was or what the dying process looked like, so I couldn’t even brace for it—which may sound naïve to people, and they would be correct. I was a naïve 28-year-old way in over my head and my husband was a 34-year-old doing everything he could to stay on this earth for his wife and his newborn daughter and two-year-old twins, and if that meant not acknowledging it, then that meant not acknowledging it—and I don’t fault him for that.

But it’s usually in our finest moments or in our suffering that we want more time, or we want to turn back the clock or we want to freeze it, and when death happens, something deep within keeps looking at that clock as if we could do something to change it. The day my husband died, I was asked by someone if I wanted to request for him to be raised from the dead. I had heard from people after his death, “We didn’t come to see him because we thought there was more time…that he’d pull through…”


 

…life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t…


 

A friend recently sent me an article published at Christianitytoday.com called “On dying and reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel,” in which Morgan Lee interviewed church historian, Kate Bowler about her own battle with cancer and her perspective of the Prosperity Gospel in the midst of illness. I was brought to tears reading it because she was able to explain beautifully what I was struggling with on an incredibly painful, profound and personal level:

Prosperity gospel is a reflection of American avoidance of our finitude. Their denial of the inevitability of death taught me something about American confidence. Americans want to be in control. Self-determination is a theological good. It’s really hard when it comes to the fragility of the end. In almost all circumstances, I can understand why someone would go to a prosperity church. It has so many obvious appeals pragmatically, theologically, and emotionally. But when it comes to sickness, it offers so few resources to its folks. The saddest stories that I heard in my research were when it was obvious that people would lose to whatever sickness they were facing. But the church was not able to surround them with comfort and tell them that they weren’t to blame or that there were questions and uncertainties beyond our knowledge. They couldn’t tell them that God was present in the suffering of his people, not just in the triumph of them.

I have no PhD in theology and I’m no expert on what hope really means or why some people are healed while others are not. One might think that I should be jaded by hope or Christianity, or even God, but I can’t be, even though I’ve tried…I can’t not believe in hope, all I do is hope. Hope was, and still is an essential part of my daily journey. I can’t imagine what life would have been like without hope from the day I met my husband, until his last breath. I can’t fathom what my life would be like now without the hope that I embrace with each new morning. Where would my children be if I could not show them hope? I never did, and never will, give up hope, for hope is essential for our time here on Earth—along with faith and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13). I used to be so bitter about all the things that were said or not said, done or not done, because it felt like time was stolen from me, but I can’t be anymore because I see everything was said and done because we all wanted my husband to stay here for a little longer, just a little more time. I can accept now that life happens quickly and slowly at the same time. Sometimes we have the privilege to determine its pace for a while and sometimes we don’t. I can now see hope as something not used to manipulate a situation to the way we think it should go or to convince God to give me more time because I believed enough, but as the driving force that brings us through whatever this life brings us. God’s clothed us with the comfort of hope that our souls so desperately need. Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.

But I do imagine sometimes…what if I got to say all the things I needed to say and he got to say all the things he needed to say, and the children and I got our special photographs with him in the hospice at the end? What if we got “The Fault in Our Stars” ending? The bottom line is our time is finite here on earth, so even if all the prayers for healing worked the way we wanted, and he lived to a ripe old age, if we had a choice, we’d always opt for more time. It’s human nature, I believe, to be time hoarders, because deep down we are not satisfied with the finality of this fragile lifetime. Deep down, in everyone, I believe there is an ache for eternity. We still face living in the paradox of grieving when people leave this world, we want to go back in time, wanting to change it, wanting to freeze it forever and never let go, desperately wanting more time and also wanting to move forward. God knows this. This is why we have memories in the first place, something locked deep inside that somehow, in some way, time is frozen, just for a split second. It can be a blessing or a curse depending on the memory. The smatterings of the past pave the present we walk in, but only the knowledge that one day that clock will be broken for good (Revelation 21:4, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57,) can help me walk into the future while I’m still here on Earth.


 

Hope is something greater than the current circumstance. Hope is something yet to be seen. It’s the force of Hope drives one to push through the darkness into the light. Hope is a surety that surpasses physical time.


 

As I slowly and painstakingly go through my husband’s things, I fantasize that maybe I’ll run across a letter, one final letter addressed to me saying all the things he wanted to say. But I know that letter doesn’t exist. I take my fantasies of the “Final Goodbye” and drive that energy into the tangible memories he did leave me with, like this one:

The song we swayed to for our first dance as a married couple at our wedding was Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” I was naïve then to the profound statement that song would have in our marriage, but I don’t think my husband was, and I think that’s why he picked that song. Perhaps, in a way, he picked that song as his “Goodbye” to me.

Now, I recognize the “final Goodbye,” was only an intro to an “eternal ‘Hello.” I wait, patiently and impatiently, knowing it will come…in due time.

 

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty, except for the memory of how
They were answered by you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do, once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

-Jim Croce, “Time in a bottle”

When our feet hit the ground

They say that you can’t help falling in love with someone, like we really don’t have a choice, which may be true. But the real love story happens after the falling, when our feet hit the ground and we are presented with the choice to stay or run after realizing the love story contains our messes, our brokenness, our faults and mistakes, our desires and passions, our pain and deepest regrets, our darkest secrets and greatest triumphs. If you asked me if I would change my choice after hitting the ground with my husband Phil, I would always tell you, “No.” I would always choose to stay. Always. This is our love story:

The diner smelled of bacon and coffee and stale cigarette smoke still clinging to the walls from former days. Phil and I were directed to a booth by the hostess. Phil sat across from me. We ordered coffees. I was nervous and was folding and refolding the paper napkin. It was hard to look at him, so I just focused on the napkin-folding. He told me what I already knew he was there to say.

We had been dating for a little over nine months. I had badgered him for months to get a follow-up check-up after his surgery—the removal of one of his lungs which was riddled with cancerous tumors a year or so prior to our meeting each other. That day, the diner day, he finally went for a check-up.

“The cancer came back…” he said. His face showed no emotion, but his voice was heavy with disappointment and apprehension. He told me later he wasn’t so nervous about the cancer part, but that maybe I’d leave him like the other women he’d dated in the past. Although I already knew it from the way he sounded on the phone as he asked me to meet him at the diner, but finally hearing it from him, my heart sunk deep into my chest. My heart broke, experiencing the first of many fractures and breaks to follow. I was ill-prepared for this information and tears welled in my eyes and poured down my cheeks.

“There’s nothing the doctors recommend,” he explained methodically, as if he had rehearsed it on the way to the diner. “But the growths (he refused to ever use the word ‘tumors’) are so small and slow growing, it’s good. It’s OK. I’ll probably just have it the rest of my life, it’ll probably just be there. I don’t have any symptoms at all, so I don’t want to do chemo again. I can’t go through that again…”

He didn’t have to say it for us both to know that with only one lung, this disease was Stage IV. I was quiet, afraid to look at him, because if I did I was scared I’d plunge into a weeping puddle. But I gathered my thoughts and I looked straight into his eyes and said, “Well then, I guess we better get married.” Honestly I didn’t even think about what I was saying. I was half joking, trying to keep spirits light. It just came out. It wasn’t really in my plans, to get married so quickly, after all I was graduating college in a month and I had just started a job as a reporter at a newspaper—my dream job. It wasn’t in the plan to get married…to a man with cancer at that. It wasn’t my plan, it wasn’t Phil’s plan, but it was God’s.

Phil took me to Glenwood Springs a day after Christmas and proposed. When we got back from that weekend away, I immediately started planning an outdoor, August wedding. I really surprised Phil when I switched to bride-mode, talking about colors, flowers, and bookings (believe me, that’s unusual for my personality!) From the beginning of our relationship, there was always some kind of an unspoken urgency, and so when he asked me to meet him at the mall a couple weeks later, he proposed again. “I really, really want to marry you…but sooner than August. I can’t wait that long.” So, my mom and I planned a beautiful wedding in five weeks. We were married February 28, 2009. He died November 20, 2013.

My choosing to marry Phil was recently questioned in a conversation. The question went a little something like this: “You chose to marry someone, knowing he had a terminal illness, and not only that, but took a risk in having children, not one ­but three with him, now, I’m not sure if they were accidents or not… You have to take responsibility for some of the struggles you are now facing. You took on that risk…”At the time I was asked, I was caught off guard and didn’t really say anything. I have actually heard so many strange and oftentimes insensitive things over these past two years, nothing really shocks me anymore. I used to hold onto the hurtful things people have said to me, but now I’m glad they are said because they force me to search for my own truth in the error of their comments and questions. This is the truth that I have settled on, when two people hit the ground after falling in love…

Our four year marriage was jammed pack with events of a lifetime, three babies in two years, trying to run a successful business and a terminal cancer diagnosis stalking us along the way. Our marriage was raw, fast-paced and painfully beautiful. Maybe our love story was never meant to be a fairy tale with a ‘Happily ever after.’ Maybe our love story resides in the truth that when you love someone so completely that it resonates with your entire identity, it’s sickening and excruciating to realize how much it would hurt if they were not in your life anymore and even if you had just a little time with them, it was better than no time at all. Maybe our love story resonates more with those of the star-crossed lovers in literature. ‘Star-crossed,’ an astronomical reference specifically in the works of William Shakespeare. The characters’ relationships are doomed from the start, because, in literature, their paths were predetermined by the stars. These lovers work throughout their whole relationship, to do everything in his or her power to control the outcome…to be together. In the end all those attempts to stay together fail because their paths have already been predetermined, already set. The star-crossed are those who fall quickly and powerfully in love, not knowing much about the other, but knowing that something bigger than themselves is in the works. Those who fight for one another despite all earthly odds stacked against them. And when things aren’t looking so good for them, they push further into one another until they collide in brokenness and chaos and heartbreak.

Maybe therein lies the romance—we, any one of us here on this earth, choose to love and unite with another human being who is as broken as we are. We choose to weave our lives together with one another, always knowing in the back of our minds that we can lose that person and the strings holding us together can be frayed and untied. That’s the love story. Choosing to stay regardless.

Contrary to Shakespeare’s lovers, Phil and I were not victims to a vengeful and merciless universe; there were no constellations of burning balls of fire out to get us simply out of an act of randomness and alignment. No, the battle wasn’t in the universe to keep Phil and me together, the battle lies in a broken, fallen world and ultimately, the war in his chest was a tiny cell, multiplying into a silent giant. Despite whatever giants were looming, Phil and I had something far greater than those star-crossed lovers, who only had each other; we had God. And so we lived our daily lives, our marriage together, choosing to lean into God rather than the power that cancer can have over one’s life.

So, was the choice to marry Phil terrifying at times? Hell yes. Our marriage was nowhere near perfect. We were newlyweds and new parents. We had tense times, we argued and disagreed, we hurt each other with words, we made choices that set us a part at times, but there’s one thing we didn’t do; we didn’t give up on each other, we stayed, we fought for each other against all odds. Choosing to stay regardless of the brokenness also created a million little reflections incredibly beautiful, peaceful, loving, passionate and profound moments that shine brighter than our darkest days. Has the choice to have children with him with a high chance he may not be in their lives (by the way, we were told that he wouldn’t be able to father children because of all the chemo he had been through, so by no means were our three children “accidents”), left me with the burden of guilt at times? Absolutely, but they are the most beautiful part of this story. Have I lectured myself through all the struggles have been through since he died, saying to myself, “Nicole, you chose this. You signed up for this…”? It is a script I am all too familiar with. But do I consider marrying Phil as a huge giant risk with too many red flags I shouldn’t have ignored, a risk that would far outweigh the benefits? Absolutely not. I’ll never consider my choice as a risk. I don’t consider my choice as some valiant act of bravery either, instead we were just two broken people who fell in love and lived a lifetime together, and even though it only consisted of four years, it was our one and only lifetime. This is my truth. This is my love story.

We keep this love in this photograph. We made these memories for ourselves. Where our eyes are never closing. Our hearts were never broken. Times forever frozen still…And if you hurt me. That’s OK, baby, only words bleed. Inside these pages you just hold me. And I won’t ever let you go…When I’m away. I will remember how you kissed me under the lamppost back on 6th street. Hearing you whisper through the phone, “Wait for me to come home..”

-Ed Sheeran, “Photograph”

Courtesy of AHP Photos

*Courtesy of Adam Houseman Photography

 

The higher reality: How getting out of debt WAS our life insurance

A stark moment of reality hit me when I finished tallying up numbers for taxes this year. Staring at the numbers, or the lack thereof, made my stomach sink. Voices of doubt filled my head as I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad; but in a culture of excess that tells you that you and your three children fall below poverty level, it’s hard not to feel panicked. And I did. But through my tears, there was a still small voice that hushed the loud, jarring screams and taunts that I am failing and will never make it. I know that is an absolute lie because, in that moment, I was reminded of all the times we shouldn’t have made it even this far in the past six years, but we did, and I can’t take an ounce of credit for any of it. In the blurry vision of my tears I felt prompted to open my Bible, and what verse did I open it to?:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?…

-Matthew 6:26-27 (ESV)

There it was, in bright red, the words of J.C. himself and here I was crying about a number. A number that took up occupancy in my mind so much that it was all I could think about or talk about, it brought fear and doubt into my mind so fast I lost sight of the truth and my experience of that truth over and over throughout this journey. I may not have a lot as far as income goes right now, that’s my reality, but Matthew 6:26-27 is my higher reality. This isn’t religion or flowery words that make people feel guilty for worrying, this is personal and real and I was so humbled at that moment I read that verse, I just had to share with you. To share with you my weaknesses (talking about money is a little scary) if that means it’s giving glory to the one who deserves it (2 Corinthians 12:9.) So this is where the Bible gets real with me, this is where its words make me a little uncomfortable in the midst of chaos and crisis. Is it possible—REALLY possible to feel perfectly blessed and content when it seems so much is going wrong? It is, I can’t not believe it, because I’m living it. The only catch is that I can choose to recognize it, embrace it and live it, or I can drown myself in self-pity and ignore all the goodness that surrounds me. So I choose to acknowledge my reality, while also acknowledging a higher reality. It’s not easy, I feel like I’ve been dragged along this journey kicking and screaming in impatience and fear, panic and urgency, but I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of allowing my reality to define me. I’m ready to stop the struggle and be held in the higher reality in my life. Here is how I got here, moment of surrender and peace.

My Reality:

I was widowed at age 28 and am a mother of three children under five. My late husband was the sole provider for our household and the sole proprietor of a small seasonal business (which means no company life insurance, no 401K, and very little paid into Social Security after only 10 years of running a seasonal, six-months-out-of-the-year business.) He was in his early 20s when he was diagnosed with cancer and the disease remained active from that point forward, so private life insurance was off the table. When he died, I finally had to move in with my parents for hands-on help with the children, as well as shelter and basic needs, but was faced with the behemoth task of trying to figure out how in the world to run a business (which ended up going under anyway), how to raise three little kids, and find and pay for childcare for the desperate alone-time I needed. Time to not only figure out what I was going to do next, but to seek trauma counseling and honestly, to just check-out and gather all the little pieces of my thoughts. The first few months after I moved into my parents’ home for help exploded into one crisis after another; my mother had emergency surgery and was out of commission for almost three months, I was so ill from exhaustion I ended up in the hospital and my newborn was in the hospital three times each accompanied with an ambulance ride, the last of which landed her in the hospital for a month and a half with respiratory syncytial  virus, or RSV. I was one weary mommy who needed some taking care of herself, but instead needed to take care of so many others whose needs were more urgent. I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to send my two-year-old twin boys to Florida with their Godparents during the month the baby was in the hospital. In between consistent hospital visits, I was left with the task of filing death certificates and fighting the billing companies as medical bills from my husband’s care poured in. I’ve been battling for almost two years now with Social Security because they’re withholding my survivor’s benefits for six years due to a processing error. I can’t afford to work since I can’t afford full-time childcare which means no steady income to buy a home of our own and a little extra to save. In my reality, getting out of this situation looks a little dismal and damn near impossible in the present moment. When I find myself wallowing in my reality, I fix my eyes on the higher reality. It’s there. It’s always been there and now I can see it.

The Higher Reality:

Three years ago a friend was talking about the book The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey*. A friend gave me the book and showed it to my husband and we were fired up. Our reality then was that we were more than $50,000 in debt–car loans, credit cards and student loans– with infant twins, a small business and a looming cancer diagnosis. Looking back now, we were blessed with the opportunity to stay in a home owned by family and without that blessing, the rest of this probably wouldn’t have been possible. From the time we started implementing the Total Money Makeover’s “Baby Steps,” we had paid off most of the debt by the time my husband was moved from palliative care to in-home hospice care. It was an absolute miracle that through all of his chemotherapy, he would get up every day and climb ladders to earn money to throw more at the debt and provide at least something for his family, “Better to feel miserable working than feel miserable lying in bed,” he had said. When he was bedridden and could no longer do the work himself, he found subcontractors and still scheduled work from his bed. In fact, his phone log shows his last business call was the day before he died. To fill in the gap from the lack of income that resulted from his sickness and my being pregnant with our third child, total strangers came to our door with food, help with household chores, financial gifts and grocery gift cards and clothing for my children. There was never a day that went by that there wasn’t food in the fridge, clothes on our backs and a warm, safe roof over our head. We didn’t do anything to deserve it, we didn’t even really know how to ask for help, but the help showed up anyway. The last week of his life, my husband devoted his hours to selling his work truck which paid off our last debt. On the day he died, we were debt-free. By the grace of God, the community held fundraisers for our family. The money from the fundraisers, with careful budgeting and hours of listening to Dave Ramsey’s show, has carried me through for the past two years. If we weren’t debt-free, all the fundraising money would have been eaten up by paying off debt, and I would probably be bankrupt. So now, all because of a book that bases its premise on simple Biblical and practical financial tips ignited a spark in us a few years ago to pay off our debt, a family of four can live on $1500 a month; no credit cards, no borrowing, and coming up with other ways to make or save money by selling stuff, thrifting, cutting unnecessary expenses, cooking at home, etc. Also knowing God always comes through whether it’s generously offered help from other people or humbling myself enough to ask for and seek help (which is really hard!)

I’m not living the American Dream in context of ‘more is better’, but the higher reality has taught me sacrifice, living below my means, giving up a lot of things that media tells us we can’t live without. But in all honesty, the higher reality has provided more than just basic necessities and material things, it provided me with the gift of time. Because we got out of debt, by the grace of God, I don’t need to work three jobs to make ends meet, I have been given the time to work on my heart and the grief I couldn’t address for far too long. Time to spend with my two little boys who need the presence of their mommy after their daddy, in their minds, just vanished one day. Time to see all my baby’s firsts and now she’s two and I haven’t missed a moment.

I know my story isn’t everyone’s. I know how hard people are working just to survive—good, honest, hardworking people. I know all too well that money, especially a life insurance policy, can make practical things a little easier in times of tragedy and crisis, and, yes, most days I wish my husband did have a policy, but the truth is that getting out of debt took the place of that life insurance; starting that process years prior was the answer to a future prayer we didn’t even know we’d need to pray.

I didn’t do anything to deserve this higher reality. It was a gift, and really an absolute miracle we’ve made it as far as we have on so little if I go by society’s standards of wealth. A precious gift I keep in my pocket on the days it feels like nothing is going right and the struggle just seems too hard. A steady gift that when opened and observed, time and time again, helps me to look up instead of down. And every time I look up I see how incredibly rich my family is.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

-Matthew 6:21

 

 

 

* Just A Mom has not been paid to endorse or advertise the Dave Ramsey brand or products.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-purposing the brokenness

I just got my phone evaluated by a “phone expert” the other day. It wasn’t working the way it used to and I didn’t understand why. It was the same phone I had gotten a year ago, so why wasn’t it functioning the same way it had before? This is my first experience with a smart phone, a world I’m totally ignorant to, so the poor phone guy had to keep explaining terms that were foreign to me. He said that I needed to upgrade my phone to a new one. But why? I just got used to the one I have—I don’t want a new one! I want it to work the way it did before. He explained if I wanted to experience what I had previously with this phone, I’d have to get a new one, because this one was outdated. Done. But I resisted. I don’t want a new phone. I just want to make this one better! In the phone world, I guess I can’t have that, but it does make a good metaphor for what I’ve been learning in other areas of my life.

I have been waiting for my inner wounded soul to “get better.” Waiting for the day the clouds would part and all of the sadness and loneliness and anger and despair would lift and I would just feel…better. I didn’t really know what “better” would look like, but I catch myself fantasizing sometimes about what it would resemble, not being able to put a finger on anything in particular or in great detail, but honestly, “better” looked like anything that was total opposite of how I’ve been feeling. Only now, something has been stirring inside me to abandon “better.” Truth is, I’ll never be what I once thought my ideal of “better” was, and I don’t really want to be “better.” God prodded me to seek a different meaning for my new…whatever you want to call it—life? Chapter? Season? And there’s no instant upgrade involved in God’s timing here on Earth most times. The only way to get there is to re-purpose the brokenness; not replace it.

Perfect, tangible, visible examples that come to mind as I’m trying to grasp what is happening in my own grief experience is best explained by a specific art form of re-purposing broken materials into something that the object wasn’t at first intended to be, but is worked with and formed into something completely different than before, transformed from the original pieces. Take mosaics for example, or the ancient Japanese art form, Kintsugi, of taking broken pottery and fusing the pieces together with gold or silver—the end result is far more valuable than its original form.

In our culture today re-purposing, or up-cycling has become somewhat of a cool, hip, artsy thing, but it’s nothing new. God’s been up-cycling from the beginning. Taking broken things and not necessarily upgrading the broken thing to a brand new thing, but taking the broken pieces and using them for a re-purpose, a more valuable purpose, a greater purpose.

So while I do have to give in and upgrade my phone in order to have it work the way I need it to (OK, I don’t HAVE to do that, but it might simplify tasks a little bit). I don’t have to sweep my brokenness under the rug or into a dustpan and throw it away, praying all the pieces will just go away. If that was the case, how many more pieces would be lost? Precious pieces that, though painful, are so beautiful, like the pieces of cherished memories; our first kiss, our wedding, dancing in the living room, holding our twin babies… the bittersweet pieces of my husband holding our daughter for the first time as he struggled to breathe, or my taking his hand when there wasn’t anything else I could do in the middle of the night, or watching a man so broken give all the broken pieces of his life to God and in turn, receive a peace that overcame him in his last breath…and all of the tiny, unbearable shatters of my former life through this grief journey. All those pieces are painful–crushing at times–but I can’t throw them away and I don’t want to upgrade to a life where those pieces don’t exist. All I know is that while I can’t see it completely right now, the pieces that are being put back together now will resemble nothing of my former life, but will still contain all of it. There is beauty in my brokenness and one day I’ll see the final result, but until then through painstaking patience, I’ll keep giving each piece, no matter how deep it cuts, to my God.

I’m not a dad

I have heard a lot from single moms and dads, widowed or otherwise, that now they “have to be the mom AND the dad.” While practically I totally get that, I find I can’t burden myself further with that thought; feeling like I need to be the dad for my children, now that theirs is dead. It’s too exhausting to try to put pressure on myself to do the impossible because I will never, ever be able to take the place of their dad or take the place of a father figure that may be there in the future. Ever.

The kids and I went out to lunch with my children’s godfather a while back and the kids weren’t used to going out, as I know all too well, going into a restaurant with three children under five is exhausting and not enjoyable at all, so they were testing the boundaries along the way. Needless to say, I was already frazzled at the ‘kids being kids’ behavior at the table—nothing too crazy, just a little loud for my nerves, but it was what the waitress said that derailed me. She told the kids to “ask your mom and dad if you can have….(insert whatever it was they requested, I can’t remember, a soda? A pony?)” It was a logical assumption on her part since I was there with a male, but nevertheless it threw me into a pretty dark place and the only thing I was able to see was the absence of the man who was supposed to be there to help me during the crazy restaurant times, and the endless waking at night, the tantrums, the amazing milestones, the how-to-throw-a-ball moments. Even more glaring was the obvious fact that after spending just a few hours with their godfather, I could see their mannerisms change, how desperately they need a man to help them in this crazy journey of life and, no matter how much I try, I can never ever be that for them. So I stopped putting that unrealistic expectation on myself.

Sure, I can, and do, lots of “dad” things with my boys. I know how to change a tire and check my oil. I am not into sports (their dad really wasn’t a diehard fan either), but one thing he always looked forward to was playing catch with his boys, one of the first things he showed me when we started dating (he was a sentimentalist) from his childhood box was a glove and ball he saved for “his kids one day,” he said I can play catch with them; I can throw a baseball and catch one too, I can even throw a football in a way that it spins…a spiral? Shows how much I know… I can go to Home Depot and take a class and figure out how to use an electric drill or build a birdhouse, the pictures would hang crooked and the birdhouse may lean, but I could do it! I can figure out how to grill a steak. We wrestle and play pillow fights all the time, I give them piggy back rides and teach them right from wrong, I take them on hikes and dig for worms—but I do all of this as their mom. Doing all those things with a man, that ideal situation boys have to learn the ropes of manhood, will remain untouched by me, no matter how good I am at all the above.

What I can do, though, is teach my children how a woman should treat herself and, in turn, be treated. I have been implementing one-on-one date nights with my boys so we can talk and have fun and they can see Mommy not-so-stressed. I can implement door-holding and pulling out chair rules, but I hope that one day they will see these date nights as something more; that Mommy is out with them, taking the time to spend time with them, investing in them and their importance and responsibility to one day grow up not only chivalrous, but strong, grace-filled leaders. When my daughter is a little bit older, I will do the same with her. While their dad may not be here physically, his finest attributes shine brightly in his boys. I see his heart when they constantly praise and compliment their little sister telling her how cute and beautiful she is. I see it in the quiet times we sit together and they look at me and hug me tightly and whisper to me, “You know what, mom, you’re beautiful.” In my ugliest moments (inside and out), their dad never failed to remind me that I was beautiful to him and now my children who have seen all my weaknesses and ugly moments can see that beauty too and all is right in the world when, for a moment, I feel their daddy shining through in those small, but powerful moments.

The last time we got dressed up for a date, my son tugged on my shirt and motioned for me to bend down to eye level. He swept my hair gently and whispered into my ear: “When I grow up, I’m going to be Daddy and marry you.” While my heart melted, I know in the future this will change, but how do I want my children to remember how I handled this situation that’s been handed to us? With dignity and grace, and fierce perseverance. How do I want them to remember me? As their mother. Nothing more and nothing less.

A father to the fatherless, and a judge (defender) of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary (lonely) in families…

-Psalm 68:5-6 (KJV)

Impatient knitter

Anything involving sewing, knitting or crocheting is beyond me; I just don’t have the patience for it. In fact, I have always struggled with patience and wanting to see the final result quickly, rather than enjoying the time in between the raw material, or the process, and the finished product or result. Sometimes the time between start and finish can be boring, sometimes elating, and sometimes, it can even be painful and oftentimes, really hard, but a skilled seamstress pushes through and sees the value in the finished product is well worth the hours of work put into it.

I have been slowly going through my late husband’s things for the past two years since he’s been gone. I have avoided his clothing all together, until I saw another widowed friend who told me she had a company make a quilt out of her husband’s shirts. I have been carefully going through his things, putting a lot of thought into the things I want to keep; not just to stay in a box, but to re-purpose them in some way that would be useful, beautiful and meaningful for his three children. The quilt was my answer to what to do with some of his clothing.

One day I finally gathered the courage to cut up my husband’s shirts to prepare them to be sent off for the final product; three quilts for our three little ones. The first cut was the hardest, and then it was therapeutic, going through each article of clothing and remembering all the moments held in those clothes. I held his shirts to my face and breathed them in deeply, trying to retain his scent, even if for only a moment. I was on a roll when one of my four-year-old twins came bounding down the steps and he stumbled across my project.

“What are you doing?” he cried, and he crumbled at my side, sobbing, clamoring for all of his daddy’s shirts and hugging them tightly.

I tried to explain to him that I was making something special for him, his brother and sister to keep for the rest of their lives.

“But these are already special,” he sobbed. “Glue them back together, or Daddy will have nothing to wear when he comes back!”

My heart broke for my little boy, wrapping himself in his daddy’s clothes, and I realized that seeing the brokenness of something that was once whole, the shirts, brought him to the final realization that Daddy really wasn’t coming back. The floor was a mess with scraps and pieces of items that were so much a part of the one person who couldn’t be there to wipe our son’s tears away.

I tried to explain to him that Daddy didn’t need these clothes anymore and we could remember him by special blankets that would keep us warm. That answer didn’t appease him and he bawled. I tried to say that God would clothe Daddy with much better shirts and he would look so handsome, so he didn’t need these, and I offered a solution that he could keep some of his father’s pants in a box to keep, untouched, and his brother, who had quietly listened in on our conversation, piped up in his thoughtful and clever manner: “People don’t wear pants in heaven?”

This grief journey has been hard enough for me to comprehend, and at that moment, I realized how much harder it was for a 4-year-old child to see this mess and not being able to see the final product. How could I explain something to them that I didn’t fully understand myself? It was a mess, this whole thing, and it was heartbreaking to look at, but the only thing that keeps me going is that I know God is continuing to knit all these unidentifiable pieces together. One day, we’ll see the beautiful finished product, but for now, I have to trust the messy, painful, unclear pieces are, somehow, in some way, valuable in their own rite to this whole journey. I don’t like it one bit and not being able to explain something to my hurting child is unbearable, but I know I can’t explain God, but I can describe Him to my children the best I can through all the ways He’s showed up and held our family.

Reading my Bible the other day, I kept thinking about the Biblical references to knitting and weaving, the most recognizable one being Psalm 139:13-14. Why did God choose that metaphor for knitting or weaving us together in our mother’s wombs? It’s significant to me to remember that God didn’t just wave a magic wand and-Poof!- here we are. Instead, raw, organic materials were taken and put together to form something even more beautiful (Genesis 2:7-8). All of life is a process, a delicate and intentional process that takes great care to develop to successful accomplishment. While I don’t understand, and, to be honest, am quite uncomfortable at times with the process, it brings me comfort and hope to know that the final product of these bits and pieces of God’s process will be wrapped around my children and I, to bring us warmth and comfort and finally, maybe finally, clarity and peace. For now, patience in watching each strand be woven together with the next brings me a little closer to the hope I cannot see, but know is there.