Category: JustAMom of Faith

On National Widow’s Day I’m his widow, but I’m not a widow

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Apparently, it’s National Widow’s Day. May 3. There’s a day for everything now, to sandwich widows between National Eat a Doughnut Day and Dress Your Dog up as a Cartoon Character Day (that has to be a day somewhere, right?) makes it rather trite, don’t you think? Who even knows it’s National Widow’s Day unless a meme told you anyway—unless you’re a widow (or widower, is there a widower day too or is it all lumped into one day I wonder?), and any widow knows she doesn’t need a day to remember she’s a widow. She remembers every. Single. Day.  I don’t need one day for anyone else to remember I’m a widow too, I’d actually like to be remembered, rather, as more than just a widow.

It’s been three years since I was dragged into this widow-gig and it’s a title I never wanted, but a one I’ll never forget, because I’ll always be his widow, but my sole identity can’t be, and shouldn’t, be a widow.

Right after my husband passed, I would look in the mirror and think, “Is this my life? I’m a 28-year-old widow.” And then the next year it would be the same, but I was a 29-year-old widow. And the next I was a 30-year-old widow. But this year I’m a 31-year-old who also happens to be a widow. I don’t want to wear “widow” on my nametag as if it’s my only story. I don’t want it to deter you when it comes up at a party—and it always­ does no matter how hard I try to avoid the subject. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want to be the sad story you tell your friends after we meet. I get it. I’ve been avoided by friends who park 10 spaces away from me when we both pull into the Starbucks parking lot at the same time coincidentally just so she doesn’t have to talk to me. I’ve spent many weekends alone because friends said I “just seemed too depressed” to be asked to go out with them and so I’d just see everyone’s photos of fun barbecues, camping trips and girls’ nights on Facebook the next day because no one wanted to be around the sad widowed girl. I get it. I really, really do, because on those nights, I didn’t want to be around that sad widowed girl either, but I was stuck with her. I really get that when people meet a young widow, it’s shocking, but it’s also a painful reminder that really sad things happen. That young people die and their young spouses are left with the pieces—and oftentimes very young children. It’s not the topic you want to talk about at your coffee date with the girls. It’s not the topic you want to discuss while swinging our little ones on the swings at a playdate. It’s just not the reminder you want when you just got engaged, or the amazing news of your pregnancy. Quite frankly, most times, we don’t want to be reminded that death is even an option. I get it. And so, we just get our own one day to remember all of that (or any of the loss days-parent, sibling, child, etc.), honestly, we don’t need a day to remember to be friends to those who are hurting. But that’s not the point of all this…well it is, but not the only point.

My point is that I don’t want friends just on National Widow’s Day because they remember, “Oh I know a widow!” I want to be remembered as just me: a friend, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a creative.  I want to talk about more than just widowhood. I want to help you through your troubles. I want to laugh with you when you share something funny that happened in your life. I want our kids to play together not because you feel sorry for me or them, but because you just want to be around us. I want you to see that I can tell jokes and laugh—I’m a real sarcastic smart ass believe it or not—and I can dance, if someone would ask me to. Ask my kids about the funny voices I can do, or the fact that I make the best scrambled eggs (according to them), but for some reason I always burn the toast. I found out I love to garden and I don’t mind if dirt gets under my fingernails as long as the smell of the earth lingers just a little longer. I want you to know, you can say his name and I will smile and talk about him all day if you let me.

I am his widow, but I am more than that. When you think of me or any of your other widowed friends, please don’t think of death. Please think of life. Think of hope. Think of saying all the things to whomever you need to say them to, now, not tomorrow. Think of walking out your front door and taking a deep breath of fresh air just because you can! Think of changing what you can change, and what you can’t change, well, you can always look at it differently.

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The other end of giving: How going to a food bank changed this widowed mom’s perspective

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I’ve got a bachelor’s degree. I’m smart and innovative. I’m frugal and budget for everything. And yet, there I was, waiting in line at the food bank to get food for myself and my three children. There was a lump in my throat that just wouldn’t go away from the time I finally gave in and realized I needed to go to the weekly food bank at a local church. Food banks were for poor people. I wasn’t a poor person…at least I didn’t want to admit it. I mean my children and I weren’t living in a shelter, we weren’t on the streets, and at least (the only thing to our name) we had a minivan, so we weren’t poor, right?

My 34-year-old husband died, leaving me with a newborn and toddler twins. He could never qualify for life insurance because of his cancer diagnosis in his early 20s, and he was sole proprietor of his very small window-cleaning business, which yielded very little in social security benefits for my children after his death. We moved in with my parents who are both still working full-time and could really only give us a place to stay. They weren’t financially able to afford supporting all of our basic day-to-day needs beyond a roof over our heads. Everything I had was given to us from the generosity of others—churches, strangers, fundraisers. All that was given with love was accepted with humility and brought us through the first two years after my husband’s death. But the heaviness of life events just kept happening: unplanned plane tickets for my twins and their Godparents who had to care for them while my baby was in PICU for almost two months; multiple illnesses and hospital stays for myself; and the extreme cost of childcare to just survive day to day ate up quickly what was given so generously. To be honest, I underestimated the impact of grief. I assumed all I had to do was “get through the first year” and after that, everything would be better. I would just get a job—I was smart and talented, I could do that. I’d get a house and I’d be super-mom. The one-year anniversary of my husband’s death came and went and I realized I was still reeling from the trauma of his slow and painful death, from losing him, from struggling with undiagnosed PTSD while raising three kids alone. Nothing got “better” after that first year. I could barely do laundry, let alone get a job. Even if I wanted to get a job, I couldn’t because the cost of childcare for three children under 5 is astronomical. My parents rode the storm with me and were just as tired. They were not able to be the “built-in-babysitters-whenever-I-want-them” as many people have assumed and so even a part-time job wasn’t an option for me. I tried, briefly, to work at a local coffee shop for one day a week, which proved unsuccessful in both my ability to handle anything else and my mom energy needed to take care of very very active children. Everywhere I looked for an out, a big door shut in my face and my stubbornness brought me to not share with others, my situation. We were scraping by, but kids keep getting hungry and eating all the food…imagine that! Sitting down and looking at the budget I knew I needed help. I didn’t feel poor, in fact, I felt rich beyond belief.  I was incredibly grateful for the home my parents had provided for my children and me, and the money that still trickled in from generous givers, but the stark reality was that the government wasn’t going to help me in this situation. Social security was (and still is) withholding a quarter of my benefits because of a mistake in their paper trail, and we were not on the good end of that mistake. I finally waved my white flag and put down my pride.

In line at the food bank I remembered all the times I’d cleaned out my pantry when I had a “normal” life. I dusted off expired cans of vegetables and fruits and threw unwanted boxes of pasta and crackers in bags to donate to food banks. My husband worked hard for what we had and I could go to the store every week to stock up on everything we needed (and then some, judging by all the food that was given to the food bank and not eaten by us). But as I entered the room with shelves lining the walls with bread, yogurts and some produce, juice and boxes and cans, I was on the receiving end. I still felt like I didn’t belong there and I felt shame as I took as little as I could to fill my bags, thinking, “this isn’t me. I’m smart, I should be able to be making money to provide for my family. I shouldn’t be here…” I didn’t want to look at everyone else who was there, filling their bags, while I only grabbed a few things. I quietly left and on the drive home I cried, feeling like a failure. I thought I’d seen so many moms do it all; work, school, and still be the supermom that volunteers and helps with school crafts. Why couldn’t I be that mom? Here I was, accepting pity food…


Emptying my one bag of food when I got home, I was hit with a new perspective and an incredible sense of gratitude; I was providing for my children because I put my pride aside and did what needed to be done. By accepting what others had given I was blessing the givers just as much as they were blessing me. They didn’t know my family when they were emptying out their pantry, just like I didn’t know who was benefiting from the food I’d given so many times in the past. But being on the other end of giving made me realize that’s what life’s all about. In the good times, we share our blessings with others. In the not-so-good times, we are given the blessings of others—as long as we are open to accepting it.

The other few times I went to the food bank, I filled our bags with gratitude, not greed, because I knew someone gave willingly to help families like mine. Accepting help gave me the confidence and eased one less stress to develop a game plan to start digging myself out of the mess I was left with.

I don’t have to go to the food bank anymore, but I know it’s there if we need it, and the mess is slowly being revealed as an opportunity to constantly change my perspective, even though I can’t always change our circumstance. I will never forget being on the receiving end at the food bank and I can’t wait to start giving again to the local food banks—but this time not dusty cans from the back of the pantry, but to set aside some new food every grocery trip to give to others.

In the Holiday season where giving is the star of the show, know that if you’re on the other end of giving, there’s no shame as receiving can be just as impacting.

Read more Holiday posts from Just A Mom:

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Does prayer really work?

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“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