Thursday, December 12, 2013

As Yourself...

"And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:30-31 NLT

"I loved the way that he looked at you." That was the greatest compliment my mom could have ever given Tony. She could see how much he loved and cared for me just by the look in his eyes.


He took lots of pictures and videos of me over our 3 and a half years together from dating to his last days on this earth. At the time, I'd tilt my head and politely ask him to stop. I hated pictures of just myself. Those images became treasures in the aftermath of his passing. They now provide a timeless reminder of how he looked at me, how he saw me.

He saw me as dearly loved.
He was the catalyst for me learning to see myself that way too.

This 3rd year of grief has been a turning point for me. I no longer view life through the lens of loosing Tony. Most days, my first thought in the morning is not that of being a widow. I've let go of Tony in a multitude of ways; I've let go of how life "should have been."

And in it's place, I've begun to embrace what's on the other side of my loss. And what I've uncovered has been completely unexpected.

I've discovered what it looks like to love myself.
I've found freedom in settling into my own skin.
I'm embracing myself with open and accepting arms...
for the very first time in my life.

Shocking, I know.

A few months back, I was asked by a woman who I esteem highly for her insight and wisdom, "Melissa, how do you feel about yourself?"

I quickly blurted out, "I don't like myself; most days I downright hate being me." There. I had finally said it. I had finally put words around an angst I had carried almost my entire life.

Her next challenge to me was the very verses above. "What do you think about the 2nd greatest commandment from Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself?"

It hit me like a ton of bricks. If I talked to my neighbor the way I talked to myself, I'd have no friends. How could I love my neighbor as myself if I could not honestly say that I loved myself? Years of striving to be perfect, of trying to combat the fear of never being "good enough," had taken it's toll.

It all seems so simple, but my life truly changed that day. I've never been the same. I never want to be the same.

I've attributed Tony over and over these last 3 and a half years for teaching me what it was like to be loved extravagantly, of how that was just a tiny taste of how my great God loves me. What I didn't realize until now is that was just the beginning. His love, even in it's brevity, instigated a freedom movement in my heart and my mind.

I've been set free to love myself, not in a self-absorbed sort of way, but through a lens of authenticity, of kindness and gentleness for myself.

I'm finding that loving my neighbor out of this love is so much more life-giving, a natural overflow. And I'm just starting to grasp how God sees me and loves me too.

So, on what would have been his 39th birthday, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to my late husband, Tony. I'm finally seeing me the way he saw me. And that is a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful beginning.

Dearly loved, as myself,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Identity

This past September marks 3 years of when I hit my absolute rock-bottom in my grief journey. It took 6 months for the "bubble wrap protecting my brain" to fully unravel after Tony's death. The pain was so intense. To be quite candid, I felt as if I had nothing, absolutely nothing in life to look forward to. I was surrounded by darkness so intense I could not see any glimmer of hope.

I had reached the depths of the depths.
Nothing and no one on this earth could pull me out.
I was in so deep, only Jesus could reach me.

And He did.
He has slowly pulled me out; He has set my feet on firm ground again; He has gently restored my heart and my life.
He continues to heal me.
He is amazing. Nothing is impossible for Him.

It's hard to describe but for the last 3 and a half years, I've carried an underlying sadness. Even as I've moved forward and settled in to my new normal, it was still there. It haunted me; it caused me to falsely believe that this is how I'd feel for the rest of my life.

It was a different feeling than the reality that I'll always miss Tony; that he'll forever have a place in my heart. This sadness was more like a thief, slowly stealing my joy, distorting my view of the Truth.

I got to a place where I was just tired of feeling sad, of letting it defeat and deflate me. I sought wise counsel, and through a series of steps that God set in place, I faced those feelings head on.

3 months later, I can honestly say, the underlying sadness is gone.
It's gone.

Sure, I'll still have days when I'm sad; that's normal. But sadness is no longer the lens through which I view all of life. Being a widow is no longer the lens I look through either.

Widowhood is a part of my story; it's not my entire story.
It's not my identity either.

Funny, my trip to Uganda, where I served alongside the most beautiful widows, affirmed this. Yes, I feel the Lord calling to continue to serve widows in some capacity. But it's because of verse after verse in the Bible commanding His followers to care for the widow. My story just gives me leverage and a common experience.

I don't have to be a widow to care for widows. I just want to give life and love to these most precious women; I want to give them something to look forward to too.


I'm more hopeful than ever before. I am expectant again that I do have things to look forward to, that my future is bright.

My identity is rooted and secure in Christ. He is my identity.

Dearly loved,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Page is Turned...

“There comes a time when you must quit talking to God about the mountain in your life and start talking to the mountain about God.” - Mark Batterson, author of The Circle Maker

"Melissa, how are you these days?" That's the most common question I'm getting recently. So much so that I thought I'd just make it the subject of my latest post.

This quote above sums it up so well. So very well.

I came across it this summer as I furiously read the book I quoted above. It's timing was perfect.

I can honestly say... it's a new day, a new season. A page has been turned in my story.

And the theme surrounding it's fresh, new chapter is ... freedom.
I have never felt more free in my entire life.
Only Jesus.

He's orchestrated pivotal circumstances over the last 6 months that have led to this freedom. I am so in awe. I am so incredibly grateful. It brings tears to my eyes to just think about how faithful my great God is. He is IT for me. He is IT.

As I've written before, I've had many a conversation with my God as I drive down I-85 South from my parents' house. I know the exact point when Stone Mountain is in clear sight. My drives over the last few months have been at either sunset or sunrise. The sky around the mountain is stunning. Just stunning.

Since passing the 3 year mark of Tony's death this past March, I've noticed a shift in my words, my very attitude. I used to assume the role of victim to the mountain that was so instrumental in shattering my very life; I was quite honest in telling the Lord how I felt about it. Some days I wished an earthquake would just swallow it up.


Now I find myself in a posture of gratitude. I look at that mountain and can't help but tell it about my God. My very personal, gentle, healer God, who has never once abandoned me on this very hard journey. My great God who continues to restore me and my very life.

I am redeemed.
I've been set free.
I am dearly loved by the Creator of the Universe.

I am overwhelmed by what He has done and will do in my life. That's how I'm doing these days.

Dearly loved, talkin' to that mountain,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Everything She Had

I shared in my last post about how for one Ugandan widow, the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet came alive as we washed hers. Our team experienced the Scriptures come alive as well.

We wrapped up our Sunday afternoon with these precious women by taking photos outside the small school house. The widows immediately wanted to see their photos, to see themselves; we gathered around my iPhone, I zoomed in on each of their beautiful faces. We communicated through laughter and smiles. I thought about how often I quickly delete or untag myself from photos I don't think are "good" of myself. My sweet new friends were just happy to capture the moment, to see themselves; they did not critique their imperfections. 

I have a lot to learn.
This was just the first lesson.

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, I was greeted by a warm smile and an arm extended. In this sweet widow's hand were a bag of eggs.

She spoke in English, "You are my friend. I want you to have these."


We hugged; I thanked her. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but I knew I just needed to accept them. I later learned that eggs are not easily accessible or affordable in this community. She had given me a precious gift.

That was just the first one.

The next day, a beautiful widow named Angela visited us. We were surrounded by children who we were enrolling in the 410 Bridge Child Sponsorship Program. She smiled and proudly presented us with sugar cane from her garden. Another simple, yet precious gift. Our team took a break; we watched as our driver cut the sugar cane up into bite-sized pieces. We became the brunt of laughter as we learned from the children how to chew it to get the best taste. It was fun; it was delicious!

It was the best she had to give us.

In the days following, anytime we were in the village, a widow walked to find us and bring us a gift from her garden or farm. Avocados, casava, and more eggs. They were each such kind, sincere gestures.

Still, I had only begun to grasp their profound significance.

It all came together for me on one of the last days in the village. We had the honor of visiting a few widows homes. We planned to pray with each of them and give them a couple mosquito nets to cover their beds at night. I had no idea what to expect.

Our bus took us down a dusty dirt road. Several members of the village's 410 Bridge Leadership Council accompanied us. These village leaders are incredible, and their vision for their community is contagious. God is doing a mighty work through them.


One by one, they pointed out widow's home after widow's home.

I was overwhelmed. This community has been ravaged by HIV and the affects of limited access to clean water.

We divided up into small groups. I followed my teammates up to the first home where we were greeted by the gentle smile of a little girl. It was a welcome distraction from the poverty that lay in front of us.

We greeted the gracious widow and she invited us into her tiny house made from mud and what looked like bamboo sticks. She was proud of her humble home where she raised 4 grandchildren on her own. We walked back outside and presented her with the mosquito nets. She embraced us and thanked us in her language.

I began to walk away, heart-broken. It was at that point I noticed her small garden to the side of her home.

I thought to myself, "This is how she provides for herself and her grandkids. This is what she lives on."

This is everything she has.

I thought about all those gifts we had been given throughout the week, from all our new friends who were widows. They most likely have a garden just like this one.

And they gave away the very best of their gardens to our team. They gave to us out of the little they had to live on.

These very verses came alive in that moment:

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21: 1-4 NIV)

What a beautiful sacrifice, what a fragrant offering. I am forever grateful.

Dearly loved, for widows,

Special thanks to my roommate for our Uganda trip, Tammy, who took these amazing photographs.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Fragrant Offering

The night before I left for Uganda, I made a last-minute trip to Trader Joe's. I picked up a couple of my favorite lavender soaps and salt scrubs.

It cost me $15.
The return on my investment...priceless.

It was Sunday afternoon when we opened our supply bag in the Ugandan village of Kaihura, about a 4 hour, bumpy ride to the west of capital city Kampala. I was instantly greeted by that sweet, familiar scent of lavender.

I walked into a small school room, dimly lit by only it's windows. What is the size of a traditional classroom in the States holds up to 80 students here. This Sunday afternoon, it was filled with 40 of the most beautiful women I've ever met.

They were all widows, specially invited to gather together. Some were old, some younger than me. We spoke different languages. I spoke through a translator. We didn't really need to speak anything at all. Our faces told our stories, every line, every wrinkle, every smile, every scar.

Every tear.

I had prepared a few notes, written down a few verses of Scripture to share with them. But, God scripted my words. I began by telling them I was a widow too. Suddenly, the miles, the culture, anything that made us different, melted away. We connected in that moment.

It was bittersweet, yet beautiful.

I shared my story of losing my husband; I shared how our great God had walked with me in every season, a time for mourning, a time for healing, and a time for moving forward. I encouraged them that no matter what season we are in, our God is the Defender of Widows. He is FOR us.

Then I asked if anyone wanted to share their stories.

One by one, these precious women raised their hands. They stood to their feet, and they told me the most heart-breaking details of how they lost their husbands, how some had lost children, how they felt abandoned and forgotten by their very community. After the first few, I honestly didn't know if I could hear anymore. God prompted me to look each one in the eyes and just listen.

It was as if for the very first time, someone allowed them to share, someone gave them honor and a place to be heard. Someone gave them a voice.

I was taken back to 3 years of a prayer that would keep me up some nights: "God, I wanna be a voice for the widows."


I ended our time in prayer and in sharing my life verse, Ephesians 5:1-2, where we are called to be dearly loved children of God. I recited in their language, "You are dearly loved."

Then, we had jugs of water and basins brought in. Two incredible ladies from our team joined me; we kneeled down, lavender soap and salts in hand, and 3 by 3, we washed each widow's feet.

The aroma will forever remind me of this unforgettable moment.

As we finished, one of the widows stood up to thank us. She told us that she had always heard of the story in the Bible of Jesus washing His disciples feet, but she never thought anyone would do this for her. She said that we had made these verses in the Bible come alive.

Come alive.

I could not have asked or imagined that response; it was Jesus, only Jesus. I'm so humbled to have been a part, to have the Lord take a simple act of love and transform it into such a fragrant offering. To Him belongs all the glory.

I extend my sincerest thank you to our trip leader, Sherry Kovak, and 410 Bridge staff member, Amy Todd, who orchestrated the details to make this experience possible. I will be forever grateful.

More stories to come...

Dearly loved,

Sunday, September 8, 2013

For Uganda

This coming Thursday, I board a plane to fulfill a prayer 3 years in the making. 

I am so excited. Uganda, here I come. 

It was a defining moment for me in August of 2010 where this prayer began. The "bubble wrapped fog" of the early stages of my grief was beginning to wear off; darkness so painful I could not imagine was setting in. I was overwhelmed by the thought that I had nothing in this life to look forward to. I lifted my eyes up to the Lord in the middle of a sermon by Louie Giglio and boldly asked Him to give me a glimpse of something yet to come in my life. Something, anything, to point me toward purpose and light out of this dark pit of despair.

Just days later, I was directed to an article in USA Today regarding the "Plight of the Widow" internationally. A seed was planted; I knew I was to leverage my story, my resources, my Hope in Jesus as an advocate and a voice for widows and women.

God continues to affirm and expand that vision; it's now time to take the first step: to go and see. And Uganda is at the top of this list.

So I'm heading out with a team of 9 from North Point Ministries and 410 Bridge from September 12-22. The most important thing that I'm carrying with me are my two open hands.

I don't know all that God will do through this trip, but I know what He is able to do...and it's immeasurably more that I could ask or imagine. My prayer for these days is that my posture remains open-handed.

I do know that our team will be working alongside the leader in the Ugandan village of Kaihura to introduce the community to 410 Bridge. This is a brand new partnership, and we are deeply honored to be one of the first teams to go. Folks we will get to meet while we are there include widows, business leaders, teenagers and orphans. I am already convinced they are the most beautiful people; I can't wait to meet each and every one.

Did I mention...I'm so excited!

Those who know me well know that this trip is a big step for me in a multitude of ways. I ask you to pray and to pray BIG for our team, for Kaihura, and for me. I am believing our Great God to take care of every single detail. I am trusting that any work, any words, anything that happens through me, is a direct overflow of the work God is doing in my heart.

I'm boldly claiming Phillipians 1:6:

"being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you [in me too!] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Dearly loved, for Uganda,

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dear Mom & Dad...An Open Letter

Today is my parents' 41st wedding anniversary. I am so incredibly grateful. As a thank you to them for the incredible blessing and legacy they give my brother and I each year when August 5th rolls around, I thought I'd write them an open letter.

Dear Mom and Dad,

This past Sunday at church I stood in front of hundreds of kids and told them with bold confidence that they could trust God no matter what, that I can trust God no matter what. I believe that because you first modeled it for me.

I look at my life now and how my relationship with Jesus has influenced everything, literally every single thing. I can thank you for that too.

Your faith has left my life forever changed.

Sure, I've thanked you over the years for walking alongside me through the big events of life...attending hours of dance recitals, looking on proudly as your little over-achiever walked across graduation stages and earned every award imaginable, moving me 9 hours from home for my first big girl job, and rejoicing with a heart full of love for Tony and I on our wedding day. These are just a few.

You never left my side the day that life, as we knew it, shattered within a matter of hours. You grieved the loss of your son-in-law in silence, behind closed doors, so you could put on a brave face for me. I was asked recently how I made it through that first year. It was Jesus. But it was His strength flowing through you to help pull me through.

I've done a lot of reflection over the past year, as the intense season of my grief has passed. It's like I'm rediscovering myself, or maybe actually understanding myself for the first time.

I'm finding myself revisiting my early years. And that's where I landed on my greatest discovery, my greatest experience as a child that has literally carried me into my present. Sure, those formative years were seasoned with hardship, lots of moving around, and lots of unpleasant places in South Georgia. Yet, had life been easy, I would not have learned the Truth I mentioned above. I still remember the day when you both decided to go into ministry, and I remember that no matter where that journey took us as a family, for better or worse, your faith in Jesus never wavered. You trusted God. Period. No strings attached.

I'm not sure there's a greater lesson you could have lived out for your children. And there aren't adequate words to express my gratitude.

Thank you for loving and caring for Michael and I so well, past, present and future. Thank you for remaining faithful to each other in the good times and bad. Thank you for keeping your eyes on Jesus, for allowing Him to use you to influence your children. Thank you for your legacy.

I wish you the happiest of wedding anniversaries...and many more to come.

Dearly loved, with a heart full of love and gratitude,

Friday, March 22, 2013

3 Years Later...A Prayer From the Journey

Three years today. I never dreamed I would have made it this far on a journey of so much heartache and pain. My prayer below depicts the honest cries of my heart along this hard road. This was shared last fall as part of a sermon by my incredible boss and pastor, Billy. You can watch the entire message here.

"I can do all THIS through Christ who gives me strength." ~ Phil. 4:13


Here I kneel beside my bed again, a place so empty without my Tony. I miss him. I miss us.

Tonight, my heart aches so much it physically hurts. I’ve never felt such heaviness in my soul. I’m desperate for you to relieve it, even just a little. Can you just sit with me a while and lift the pain?

The ironic thing is that day after day well-meaning folks keep telling me I’m so strong. I feel like a big imposter because the reality is I am not. I’m weak, Lord. I’m so weak. I’ve got nothing left, I’m barely hanging on.

So I beg you, Lord, please be my strength.

These same folks keep asking me what I’m going to do now, in the aftermath of my tragedy. My honest answer is “I don’t know.” My life is in shambles; my dreams are shattered. I’m still reeling from the question, “How could the entire trajectory of my life change in a matter of seconds?”

I can’t even think past these next few minutes, Lord, much less the days ahead. I’m overwhelmed by my circumstances. I’m so scared. I don’t want to face this tough road alone. I need you.

I need you to meet me in my fear. I need you to meet me just where I am. Though I don't see the end of this journey or what is on the "other side" of my pain, I know you do. Give me courage. Be my courage.

And in this moment, as I fear another sleepless night, give me courage to just crawl into bed. Should I awake sobbing, be there to hold my hand, be as close as my next breath.

And for tomorrow, give me the grace to rise out of bed, put one foot in front of the other and just walk. Help me trust you to handle the rest. Help me to trust you to handle even the tiniest details of my day.

Thank you for being big enough to know my every need before I even ask. But thank you even more that you speak to me in the quietest, smallest whispers of your voice…”I am with you. I am for you. You are dearly loved, Melissa.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Dearly loved,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

He Washed My Feet

I vividly remember the first time I encountered Tony's feet. We had barely been dating a month. One night we were sitting next to each other on the couch at his house watching a movie, and he had taken his shoes and socks off. All the sudden, I felt him nudge his feet up under my leg.

Mind you, he had yet to make a move on me otherwise, no hand-holding, no arm around me, nothing other than that awkward Christian side hug at the end of our dates. He was such the gentleman, and I respected him so much for that.

Apparently feet did not count. My face informed him otherwise. I reassured him that I liked him, I did not like feet. Period.

Yet, I grew to love those feet. I learned that one of the ways to love him was to allow him to put his often ice-cold feet under my legs to warm them.

Love. Feet.

I'll never forget the day he washed mine.

It was the afternoon of our wedding rehearsal & dinner. I had spent the day with all my best girlfriends, having a blast. I received a call from him to plan to be at the rehearsal 30 minutes early.

Early? I've never been early a day in my life; I was already behind, entertaining friends, finishing up last minute honeymoon packing. I didn't have time to be early.

He asked me to trust him that it'd be well worth it.

When I arrived, my soon-to-be husband was nowhere in sight. Instead I was met by our sweet wedding coordinator who ushered me inside the old Southern home where we were married and into a private room. Tony was there waiting for me, a basin of water and a towel on the floor.

He gave me a beautiful flower and proceeded to read the verses in Scripture where Jesus washed the disciples feet and challenges them to do likewise. Tony said to me, "Melissa, this is to symbolize how I want to serve you all the days of our marriage." Then he knelt down and washed my feet.

I can honestly say that he spent the rest of his days from that moment forward (and many more before that day) serving me with such selfless love and sacrifice. He washed my feet daily in more ways I could ask or imagine.

I am forever grateful.

Dearly loved,

Monday, February 18, 2013

7 Things I've Learned from Sadness

"Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us." ~Ecclesiastes 7:3 (NLT)

Sadness...I'm sure everyone just could not wait to click on the title of this post. Ha! I don't know about you, but more often than not, I just want to sweep that word right under the rug.'s not one of those socially acceptable topics of conversation. It makes us uncomfortable; it makes things heavy and hard. I mean, when's the last time you asked someone how they were doing and instead of the obligatory "I'm fine," they said, "well, I'm sad, how are you?"

And for those few folks to whom you might actually admit that you're sad, they almost always have that knee-jerk reaction of, "why?" I mean, you never ask folks why they said they're "fine." Why sad? It just reinforces the unspoken rule: sadness is not okay.

I've caught myself saying a few times over this last year, "I just don't want to be sad anymore." It's as if I viewed sadness as an item to check off my "to do" list...that I'd finally wake up one day and no longer face this emotion that nobody ever wants in their life. 

Yet, the Creator of the Universe, the Author of Life, who created all emotions, saw fit to make this emotion too. And when I encountered the verses above through a memorial service a few weeks ago, I realized for the first time that perhaps, just perhaps, sadness is not so bad after all. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, perhaps sadness, if we allow it, can have a "refining influence" on us.

Refining influence.

So, I set out to determine just what sadness has taught me, how sadness has refined and influenced me. Here are 7 things I've learned from sadness...

  1. I've learned the great value in being vulnerable. Sadness turns my heart inward to what is broken inside of me. Most of the inspiration behind my writing comes through tears, through a heart made tender because I've allowed myself to feel raw pain. I'd much rather come across as "fun Melissa" all the time, yet I have found that  influence sometimes comes through pulling off my bandaids to expose my battle wounds and scars. It also shines a huge light on my Healer, my Redeemer, who continues to create beautiful things out of the ashes of my loss.
  2. I've learned that sadness gives me a lens through which I can see the mess of life, a lens that breaks my heart with empathy for others. It gives me the courage to lean in when others are hurting instead of shying away with excuses like "I don't have the right thing to say" or "I don't know what to say." That's when God speaks through me; His words trump mine every time.
  3. I've learned that sadness doesn't have to steal my hope and joy. I've learned to remain open-handed with it. I can't always control when waves of sadness strike, just as much as I can't always control bursts of pure joy. I've found in the "random-ness" of either extreme come the biggest hellos from God, and sometimes even the best stories that I could not make up if I tried. With this has come the freedom to embrace the simple joys of life, to love laughter, and to place all my Hope in the One who is the Blessed Controller of my life.
  4. I've learned that sadness is not my enemy. Sure, the enemy, Satan, can use it to destroy me or distract me just as much as he can use my happiness. I have a choice in how I respond to sadness and how I respond to the emotional chaos that often accompanies it. I can choose to lean hard into the Truth of God's promises or choose to be tossed around in feelings that distort my view of God and my circumstances.
  5. I've learned that sadness, despite what society thinks, is okay. That I will not dwell in it all day, every day. I finally understand the verse in Psalm 30:5, "weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." I received comments from well-meaning folks who assumed that I just cried all the time in those early days; they were shocked to see me smile in a photo again. Really? How could our Great God, who is crazy in love with us, not ease the sorrow with at least a few bright spots of joy? Who could survive grief otherwise? 
  6. With that said, I've also learned that sadness is not something to walk through alone. I've learned to seek out those safe people who will not tuck their tail and run when I honestly admit my emotions. These folks have been so kind to let me feel and cry and be present in my sorrow, but with an eye to ensure that I don't get stuck in my feelings for too long. I've also found great help through a grief counselor...more on that in another post, but I'll just say, it was one of the best decisions I've made in my grief journey.
  7. I've learned what it's like to long for heaven. I've grasped the Biblical concept that this world is not our home. Our home in heaven will have no tears, it will have no sorrow; sadness is not welcome there. So I press on, I endure sadness on this side of heaven, with great expectation that when I am called home and finally turn my eyes to physically see Jesus, I will be turning my back on sadness for eternity.
And that's just about all I've got to say about sadness.

Dearly loved, whether sad or happy,

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Weary Widow & A White Flag

It seems I've gotten yet another holiday season under my belt. My "holidays" run from Thanksgiving through my birthday. If I can be completely honest, I feel as if I've been spanked; yes, spanked. In many ways it was as hard as the first.

And, that caught me by surprise.

But apparently, it's "normal" for some years to be harder than others. "Normal"...yeh, there's nothing "normal" about the holidays for this worn-down, weary widow.

Weary. I had myself a weary little Christmas, weary little holidays, weary birthday. I've been asked for the last several weeks how my holidays were. I answered quickly, "they were okay, they were quiet." Apparently, that's not normal things to call holidays either. Sigh.

I finally feel like I'm digging out. I am glad to be in a new good ol' 2013. But I can't fully embrace a new year without taking time to reflect on 2012...and my word for last year...


I started 2012 with a new song that quickly became one of my favorites, Passion's "White Flag." Singing it always brought images of my hands lifted high, holding a white banner, eyes lifted to heaven, freely giving myself to my Great God. Surrender.

When I chose the word release, I had no idea what that really meant I would surrender this year.

I let go of two big things tied to Tony. One was his Accord that I'd been driving. It was the same car Tony picked me up in on our first date, the car we rode away in on our wedding night. It carried a lot of memories, yet, it was needing more maintenance than this non-car dealing widow could handle. Plus, after experiencing first hand my friend totaling her car last January, I just could not bear the thought of something happening to Tony's car. I wanted to choose to let go. Last April, I drove it to the dealership; I drove away in a new white car, with his blue car in my rearview mirror. Release.

The second was our fixer-upper house we had bought just 2 months before Tony's fall. It quickly became the old ball-n-chain. No offense to my husband, but that house needed all of both of us to keep it afloat. The things I had to deal with over the last 2 and a half years, you just can't make that stuff up. It was put on the market in early August and sold in early October. Only God. I drove by one last time a couple days before closing; the phrase that came to mind was "shattered dream." Still, I felt a huge sense of relief and release of a burden. No regrets. Release.

In the midst of these 2 milestones, I began a program through our church called "Hope." It's one on one mentoring that led me through a process of rediscovering and redefining my identity in Christ. I had no idea how life-changing it would be. It's as if I came to the "other side" of my grief and to the end of myself. I was finally willing to deal with ME, my insecurities, my false beliefs that spring up when I'm trying to operate apart from Christ. It was ugly, sure, for these beliefs have been ingrained for decades. It's a work in progress, yet I continue to find an indescribable freedom in replacing what is false with the Truth of who I am in Christ. Release.

Still, there was an another battle waging war in my heart. And that's the one that really "spanked" me the most. I hit the 2 year mark of my grief last March and this sense of entitlement encroached. Can't I be happy now? Haven't I grieved enough? I don't want to be sad anymore. Can't I take control of the reins of my life? Haven't I earned that? I mean, culture would just wanna find a big bow to tie on my story and send me on my way. There were so many days I wanted that too.

So about halfway through the year, this hit me: "It's hard to surrender to what I can't see." So go the lyrics to yet another song that was a big part of my year, "Whatever You're Doing" by Sanctus Real.

Surrender. God was calling me to surrender without seeing what's ahead. He was calling me to release my story, my future, my hopes and dreams, whether happy or sad, to the One who sees. Because He sees the bigger picture, the greater impact of my life fully surrendered to Him. I slowly opened my hands and my heart, and He used me in spite of my fear, my apprehension, my days when I told him bluntly that "I didn't sign up for this." He's so good like that. And the ways He's intersected my story with the lives of others over the past year, it's been nothing short of a beautiful collision.

And that, that, is what gives me the strength, the hope, the peace, to raise my white flag, to raise my banner, tattered and torn, to my great God to use for His Glory.


Dearly loved, with open hands,

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fully Known...

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." ~ 1 Cor. 13:12

I longed for heaven yesterday. Yep, it was my birthday. I was overwhelmed all day by the outpouring of love from my family and friends; yet, there was a sadness I could not shake. I woke up to that same empty bed (of course, with the exception of sweet Ralphy!) and felt so very lonely. I missed the one who loved my birthday more than I did. I missed my life from 3 years ago, what would become my last birthday with my husband.

I miss him. I miss marriage. I miss us.

I am finally able to put into words what I miss most about marriage these days. For it's these very days that I find myself putting on my big girl pants quite often, walking into new situations, getting to know new people.

Sometimes, I'm downright terrified by it. I force myself to go anyway. I tell those closest to me how much I don't like it.

They remind me of how far my God has carried me on this journey of the last 2 and a half years. They prompt me to keep going.

Going. Going. Yet, feeling so unknown. Going with folks, being in a crowd of people, and yet feeling so very alone. It's as if I've got one foot in my new surroundings and the other in my circumstances of the last few years. It depends on the day, on the season, which side I choose.

Yet, when I do venture forward, I finding myself looking to make eye contact with someone, anyone, who can look back at me and know what I am thinking, know what I am feeling. Someone who can almost read my mind by the look in my eyes.

Someone who knows me fully. Someone with whom I am fully known.

And that, that very desire is what I miss most about marriage.

Sure, I miss Tony, I do. But I've accepted the fact that he's in the Ultimate Destination and he's not coming back. He's tasted and seen the Living God. He'd never choose to come back to this earth, even if he was given the opportunity. He's living it up in heaven. And that comforts me.

Still, I find myself missing the amazing gift of being married, of being one with another, of doing life with my husband. I miss being fully known by my one and only love.

Fully known, no matter the good or the bad. Fully known and accepted. Fully known and loved.

I want that again. I do. My marriage was such an amazing love story, how could I not desire to be married again? How could I not?

And yet, I'm fully aware that it doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. It can be a very long process. And that's just the finding. And there's no guarantee that I'll even find again. On top of that, getting to the place of being known fully is a lot of work, hard work, and vulnerability and courage. The sheer thought of it overwhelms me. It's too much.

Too much.

And that's when my God intervenes. That's when He reminds my fragile heart that He knows me fully. He knows me fully. In Him, I am fully known. In Him, I am never alone. And though I can't see the pieces and parts of my story ahead, He sees it. And even more than that, He's got a place waiting for me, not of this earth, where I can be forever, completely fully known.

Fully known.

Dearly loved,