Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mi Amor en Sevilla

I took a marble with me to Spain. Yes, these were the precious marbles in the jar Tony gave me when we were engaged so that we could throw one away every year on our anniversary. That jar accidentally broke about 6 months back, and instead of scrambling to glue it back together or buy another jar, I simply accounted for all of the marbles and placed them in a temporary location…a Ziploc bag.

A few weeks before we left for our mission trip in Spain, our co-leader Carolyn asked each of us to bring a small item from home to share with our team as a way to get to know each other. I thought, and I thought. Of course I wanted to take Ralphy. But, then the most perfect thing hit me…I was to take one of my marbles on the retreat and then was to take that same marble to Spain.

And, I was to leave it there.

No, it’s not yet Tony’s and my anniversary. But the day I witnessed my jar shatter, I made a choice to let those marbles go…and do so by releasing one at a time in places or with people important to our life together.

Spain was one of those places. To be honest, I was so nervous about how I would feel as I walked into a country Tony and I dreamed of experiencing together.


I quickly fell in love with the culture, the history, the people. Tony would have done the same. I could see us living here while he pursued a degree; I could see us falling more in love with each other as we shared amazing times together in such a breath-taking place; I could see God using us for His Glory in a country so beautiful yet so empty without Jesus.

I missed him. I longed for him. I could feel the weight of grief again on my shoulders. I felt heart-broken all over again.

Yet I did not feel alone; I was so glad to be alongside my amazing teammates and new amigos who already feel like family. It’s as if Tony was smiling down on me, as I tried to relay to him, “Do you see me, aren’t you proud of me; I’m finally in OUR Spain.”

I had determined to find just the perfect spot to leave the marble; I asked the Lord to show me at just the right time. It’s been such a battle to have an undivided heart between wanting to dwell on Tony and wanting to be fully present for my team.

I had hoped I could release it sooner than later, so that I could focus on our mission as much as possible. And on day two of our trip, that hope was fulfilled as we visited the Plaza de Espana in the center of Sevilla.

As we walked up on it, I was enraptured by it’s beauty, like none I’ve seen. It was so old, yet so well preserved. It was the essence of Spain, people everywhere. We walked around, taking photos galore. But what caught my eye were the couples rowing in small boats in the canal in the center of the plaza. I couldn’t help but picture Tony and I in one of those boats. Romance.

So, I stepped aside from the rest of the group. I reached into my purse and took out that precious marble. I held it up in my hand for one final picture, well two. 

I love the contrast in these. It’s as if God shown down in that moment to remind me He is with me, He is for me, that He sees me, that He recognizes my pain, that He will restore me, that He will continue to use my story for His glory.


The marble was gone, never to be seen again. Tony and my dream of Spain together gone with it.

It’s just another part of letting go.

As I walked away to rejoin our group, I looked back to see this couple rowing by.

Love stories continue. Yes, mine with Tony on this earth has ended. Yet, others go on; perhaps even one for me will blossom again. Perhaps.

Whether or not that happens, I rest in God’s love story, the great Love of my life, and I pray someday, somehow the great Love of many in Spain. And so my prayer for Spain is captured so well in the words to “How He Loves” in Spanish, sung by Seth Condrey who will be here on Friday for our concert.

Dearly loved, with 72 marbles left,

Friday, February 24, 2012

Voy a Espana!

Tomorrow I'll set foot in a country Tony and I dreamed of going, even living...beautiful Spain.

I'm heading there as a co-leader of a mission trip with 8 college students from Georgia State University who are giving up their spring break to invest in the lives of students in Sevilla, Spain. 

This trip is all for God's glory, for the people of Spain to know Jesus, and for these college students to grow further and faster than they ever dreamed possible in their faith. I go just to be a part of it all, to be an empty vessel poured into by God in order to pour out onto others. My prayer is that it's nothing of me, that's it's completely God's Presence going before me, before us.

Yet, I can't help but smile when I think about how this trip also has "Tony" written all over it.

In addition to Georgia State being Tony's alma mater, Spain is the one place Tony always dreamed of going to pursue an international degree. Spanish was his second language, and boy, am I wishing I had that skill right now as I cram Spanish terms in my forgetful brain! Though it's certainly bittersweet to go without him, I know he would be thrilled for me, I know he's cheering me on.

And so, I carry his legacy with me.

His legacy of appreciating other cultures and of making friends with folks so different from himself...all with the heart to exemplify Jesus to them...

The people of Spain need Jesus. Most have grown up in a religion that is merely a forced, cultural experience, void of the love, hope, and peace found in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our team will be partnering with a local church there, Parque Este, which is modeled closely after our church. We plan to conduct a series of presentations in high schools and a service project throughout the week, all leading up to a concert and outreach event for the community with worship leader Spanish Seth Condrey. Our hope is that many new faces will come to learn more about the church and ultimately come to know Jesus, not just as a religious figure, but as their one and only Savior.

I also carry with me Tony's legacy of challenging others to pursue their passions, to not settle for the ordinary life...

Tony always encouraged my passion for college students. My heart is FOR this generation; I just love them, I do! Honestly, not a week goes by that I’m not hanging out with at least a few 18 to 24 year olds. It was my college years that really set the foundation for my faith in Jesus, so my heart’s desire is to “pay it forward” for generations to come. When the opportunity arose for me to co-lead a college mission trip, I was in. I can see Tony smiling now. I knew I was gonna love being a part of these students' lives, but we have not even left yet, and my time with them has been beyond any blessing I could have wished for.

My heart melts to think about worshiping in Sevilla...worship music was how Tony best connected with our Savior and some of my sweetest flashbacks of Tony are of him swaying, with hands raised, singing his heart out to God. And, in Sevilla, we'll be worshipping in Spanish...how beautiful!

So, pray for us, pray for Spain, pray for God to do immeasurably more in and through us than we ever dreamed possible. Keep up with us on our blog - http://studentsforseville.wordpress.com/.

Dearly loved, in Spain...

Monday, February 20, 2012


I'm chewing on a new word for 2012. I suppose you could call it a New Year's resolution of sorts. For the past 3 years, I've been finding a word to focus on each year...2010, in retrospect, was HOPE, for that's what the Lord gave me to keep me going that unbearable year. 2011 was RESTORE as I trusted the Lord to begin to gently restore my life and my heart.

And 2012...this year's word is RELEASE.

Release...to let go. One definition in Webster says it means to "give up in favor of another."

And one of my verses to go along with this word is Phil. 3:13b-14:
"But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

In the first verse above, Paul includes the word forgetting. In doing some study, I learned that in this context, he did not intend for that word to mean that we are to have no recollection of something in our past. Instead, he was encouraging that we leave what is in the past behind us...to keep things in perspective as far as what must be left behind for the benefit of moving ahead in the journey toward heaven.

Leave what is behind.

For me that means, that though I will always carry Tony in my heart, that his life and his love for me has made an eternal impact on my life, my husband in the physical sense is in the past. He must be left there; at some point, in some way, I must let him go.


It's hard. It's so very hard. From the moment I said "yes" to Tony's marriage proposal, and even more so, from the moment I said "I do," I couldn't help but feel a sense that my spouse would always be a part of my future. Always. Sure, every married couple says that part in the vows about "until death do us part," but I would imagine the majority of us envision ourselves as very old before that ever happens, while in our hearts, hoping the good Lord takes us both at the same time.

I mean, that's what happened in "The Notebook." Am I right? 

Today marks just 3 days short of it being 23 months since Tony departed this earth. 

3 days short of 23 months.

That's the exact amount of time we were married.

Yep, that's it. That's all we were given. That was our allotment of days. Of course, we never knew it; we didn't see our marriage ending. I dreamed of growing old with Tony... old, and still as stuck on each other as we were those first few months we dated. We were inseparable.


Yet, God, in His infinite wisdom, was not surprised when our time came to a close, when the final hour darkened on our beautiful love story.

I often reflect on my entire life, all 3 decades of it, and wonder how God felt as He watched it unfold until now, as He knew the road carved out for me, uniquely just for me. He has seen my triumphs, my success, my joy; he has seen my missteps, my trials, my sin, my pain. He has orchestrated moments that impact my faith, my relationship with Him for eternity...moments of pure bliss, moments of utter desperation.

Yet, all those moments join to create a breathe-taking painting, a one-of-a-kind story, the story of Melissa Gardner, now Edge. He sees the scenes, the chapters yet to be lived. He sees what's ahead.

And because I am His, He knows that in the end lies my Ultimate Prize—my Jesus.

So, He calls me to press on ... to let go ... to release

... that which must remain in my past so that I can strain with all that is in me toward my future, whatever my future may hold.

I'm slowly, ever so slowly, in the process of letting go of my sweet husband. Letting go, always remembering. And I know that Tony loved me so very much, he would not want me to hold on for too long.

Dearly loved, 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Comparing Tennis Shoes

Off and on this past year, I start to feel anxious over the amount of stuff I have in storage (in about 3 different places, and that's down from 5!); stuff of Tony's, stuff of mine, stuff of our lives together.  Stuff.  Suffocating stuff.  No one ever teaches you in school what a daunting task it is to figure out what to do with all that stuff left behind.

I honestly don't know all the stuff I even own.  A few months back, I finally cleaned out an extra large storage unit I moved most of our belongings into a few months after Tony died. As I sorted through box after box, bag after bag, memories flooded my mind. I fought most back; I was in "clean out" mode, not reminisce mode. But there was one item that I just couldn't let go.

It stuck out like a sore thumb.

It was Tony's all-white K-Swiss tennis shoes.

Yep, I said K-Swiss, like straight out of the 90s. And these shoes, they were so uncool, so out of style. I recall wrinkling my nose at them when he would wear them when we were dating; I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I kept my thoughts to myself. I was honestly thinking that one day, when we were married, those tennis shoes would be on their way to Goodwill. I would make it my mission to update his tennis shoes.

And, as his wife, I tried. He stood his ground that they were perfectly fine, they were expensive shoes, and they did not need to be replaced. I bargained, I begged, I attempted many a deal, and I failed. The truth is, Tony just didn't care what people or culture or popularity dictated when it came to those shoes, and really when it came to most things. He was his own unique, sometimes quirky self; he didn't need anyone else influencing him otherwise.

He wasn't much for comparing his life with others; he didn't succumb to the comparison trap.

Those shoes describe so well how I feel walking around in my new "normal" life without Tony. This week I was chatting with another 30-something widow and I just had to proclaim that there was nothing "normal" about our "new normal." Widows who are in their 30s make up less than 1% of all widows. What's "normal" about that?

Still, I long to feel "normal" again. I'm getting there in some ways. Folks who know my story don't so much feel sorry for me, anymore. Yet, when I'm around folks who don't know Tony or our story, I feel as if I just don't quite fit in. And when the unavoidable opportunity arrises to share what has happened in the last 2 years, I mostly get puzzled looks like I must be some sorta crazy for telling of such tragedy without tears. I almost always leave out the way Tony left this earth; that's like giving an unexpected sucker punch to the gut.

Best I can explain it...I'm feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I'm uncomfortable with this in between stage of life I find myself in. I'm over the intensity of grief, but I'm not done grieving. I'm technically single but don't want much to do with being single. I'm a widow but I don't want my identity wrapped up in it.

I want God to continue to use my story, but I'm struggling with wanting to control my circumstances, my outcomes. I'm wrestling with the "what if's," with the "how's it gonna turn outs."

It's like I've got these K Swiss tennis shoes on, while everyone else has on the latest Chucks.  I'm trying to find my place, my next part of my story, but I've got these things on my feet that make me feel so uncomfortable, awkward. When do I get to upgrade my shoes?

And as my counselor so gently led me onto the other day, I'm finding myself comparing my K Swiss circumstances to all those who are living up life in Chucks, to others whose lives seem so "normal" and desirable and less painful, to others who get to wake up to their husbands every morning, to others who get to walk through life with their spouse regardless of what's on their feet.

Comparison. I know better. I know it's dangers.

And I KNOW the plans, the unique plans God has for me are more than I could have ever asked for or dreamed, if not in this life, then most definitely in the life to come. So a song that is played almost on repeat on the radio right now is so perfectly on repeat in my mind. It's "Whatever You're Doing" by Sanctus Real (lyrics and song can be found here).

Oh, and I should confess that I did give Tony's shoes away to Goodwill a few months back. They sure would come in handy right now as I seek to step out of the comparison trap. I pray whoever is wearing them is not worried about what others think of him. I certainly won't be the judge again!

Dearly loved,