Friday, December 30, 2011

Year of Favor

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, 
And the day of vengeance of our God;
       To comfort all who mourn,       
 To console those who mourn in Zion,       
To give them beauty for ashes,       
The oil of joy for mourning,       
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;       
That they may be called trees of righteousness,       
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:2-3

2012 is upon us.  And with it comes hope.  Hope of healing, hope of a new beginning, hope of seeing God's promises fulfilled.  For the past week I've been stewing over these verses.  In 2011 I mourned.  I not only mourned the loss of my husband, but I lost my closest sister.  Yet God promises me that the acceptable year of the Lord is upon us!  Jesus declared this promise, as He quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, saying "today is this scripture fulfilled!"


So as I read this, I understand that Jesus has already made it a reality.  The acceptable year of the Lord has come for me, a mourner.  The acceptable year means the year of God's favor, desires, and plans coming to pass in my life.  I could use some of that right now, how about you?


When God singles out a particular group to give a promise too, its important.  And its exciting when I qualify for that group.  He declares that He is the comforter of those who mourn, which would be an amazing fact all on its own.  In 2011, God has brought me comfort, but as the year of His favor and desire approaches in my life, I expect to see the rest of this promise fulfilled!  To give me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. 


 I have been walking around covered in ashes, the residue of my past covering the beauty of what lies ahead.  I have been mourning.  I've experienced bouts of situational depression, and unable to see the joy in the midst of my current situation.  And the spirit of heaviness has weighed on my heart.  I've carried worries and fears: will I ever move on, how can I raise a son alone, is there a man of God out there for me, and will my son ever know a father's love again?


But 2012 is coming! And it will be the year of God's desire and favor in my life.  His plan, His desire for me is to comfort me.  He is removing the ashes, and let the beauty of who I have become shine forth.  He is pouring the oil of joy over me, pushing away the pain of mourning and depression.  And He is taking away the heaviness of the burdens, questions and fears that I have carried, and replacing it with praise!  I can hear those thoughts, but confidently turn to God and praise Him knowing He has it all under control and is taking good care of me!


God has the best exchange policy! He does not require me to "do" anything.  I don't have to wash the ashes off, or pour joy on myself.  He takes the dirty, depressed, and discouraged, and replaces it with beauty, joy, and praise.  No questions asked. No requirements to be met.  


I'm welcoming 2012 with excitement.  This will be the acceptable year of the Lord for me.  I'm going to give Him everything and watch Him turn it around for good!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shaken

Like me, I am sure you can pinpoint the exact moment your world came crashing down.  For me it happened long before that unforgettable call from the hospital.  Its been almost 3 years now, and I have as many questions today as I did then.  Why did this happen? Did I miss God? Would I do it different if I could? Why me? What if, what if, what if?  The reality is my world was shaken. 


Through it all: all my questions, my doubts, my heart break, I've known that God is faithful.  And I've understood that the more I lean on Him, the better off I will be.  Proverbs 18:10, says "The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe."  I need that tower.  I need that protection.  I need that stability.  I need to know that even though almost every part of my life has changed in the blink of an eye, God doesn't.  He won't.


When we put our complete and total trust in Him, we can walk through hard times, desperate times, broken times, knowing that He is our shelter.  


“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”  Matthew 7:24-27


I love this parable, because of what it says to me! See, the storm came to both people.  Just because we are facing a hard situation doesn't mean we made a mistake, we missed God, or we are in sin.  Sometimes its just life.  The storm hit both the people who did God's word, and those who didn't.  As Christians we need to stop placing blame, or searching for why this happened.  Storms come, welcome to a fallen world! But thank God we can survive.  Our house, or life, can fall apart without taking us down with it.  The secret is to put our foundation, our trust, our hope in Jesus.  And to do His Word.  When He says praise Him at all times, we are building a house on the rock. When He says trust Him with all our hearts, we are building a house on the rock.


God's not moved by the storm that destroyed our house.  The rock wasn't effected.  It couldn't be swept away, and anything clinging to that rock, or finding refuge inside was protected. God knew this storm would come.  He's not surprised. He's not shaken, nor can He be.  So find refuge in Him.  Seek shelter from the rain, wind and waves, inside His wings.  


When I am in the valley of the shadow of death
You're not shaken, you're not shaken
You're right here beside me, and you have never left
You're not shaken, you're not shaken

When every little thing, that I had dreamed would be
just slips away like water through my hands
And when it seems the walls of my beliefs 
come crashing down like they're all made of sand
I won't let go of you now because I know
You're not shaken.



Your Not Shaken, Phil Stacey

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Ready?

I'm one of those people who feels like I have to earn everything.  When it comes to God's blessings I always feel like I have to work for them.  For example, years ago before I started dating my late husband, I remember needing to scrub the kitchen floor and I really didn't want to. But I had this conversation with myself: "How can God send your husband if you won't take care of this floor?"

It seemed to make sense.  How could I expect God to bless me with a husband, if I couldn't even keep my floor clean?  But that isn't how God works.  God doesn't expect us to reach a certain level, or obtain a certain status so that He can bless us.  God doesn't say to us, "Clean up your life so you are worthy of my son.  Then He will save you."  NO! He is exactly the opposite. He sees us as sinners, who don't even recognize His goodness, or even see the reality of Jesus as our Savior.  And in that state, our worst state ever, He sent Jesus to save us.  And all we need to do is believe that Jesus is His Son, and we are saved.  No works involved.  Nothing to earn, nothing to prove.

I'm reminding myself of all of this, because once again I'm struggling with my own need for perfection.  On Christmas Eve, my late husbands step-dad (of 22 years), turned to me and said in seriousness and compassion, "You need to find yourself someone.  That's how your gonna move on. Start a new life."  Tears rolled down my face as he spoke.  I felt such a freedom, and a sincere love from him.  And the truth is I think about finding someone often.  I have started to put myself out there, as much as a single stay at home mom can.  And this is what brings me to my internal struggle of earning God's gifts.

If you've been following me for any amount of time you know what a roller coaster I've been on.  The ups and downs of grief, and the loop the loops of single parenting have me screaming, holding on for dear life, and even ready to barf at times.  How can I even consider bringing a man in on all of that?  I had this thought so often, and heard it from so many, "You can't move on until your healed."

The more and more I think about being healed, and waiting to move on until my healing is complete the less sense it makes.  Is there a certain event that passes, and its your marker stating the grief has ended.  Is there a long enough amount of time that can heal the unexpected loss of your 38 year old husband.  More and more I have come to realize that healing is a process.  And a hurt as deep as becoming a widow, is not one that heals easy as paper cut.  In fact, I'm not sure I will ever be completely healed from what I have been through.  And if God requires me to be completely healed and 100% emotionally repaired, I don't think I will ever have a new relationship.

I believe its not about being healed, but rather being ready.  Its okay to move on and still be walking through grief.  In reality I am sure grief will visit us for the rest of our lives.  On my step daughter's graduation day.  When my son plays his first baseball game.  When our children get married.  And of course the first time I see our grandkids.  Grief will be there.  The question then becomes are you ready to move on? Am I ready?

I personally am not entirely sure if I am ready.  And its something that only I can know.  In the last year I had influential friends and even pastors telling me to move on quickly, and I got in a relationship way too early.  I wasn't ready, I hadn't even grieved.  But I listened to what other's told me.  And it was a mistake. I can see that now.  From that I learned to listen to my heart, and listen to God, not to others.

Sometimes you don't know if your ready to walk until you stand up and try.  And if I take a step and crash to the ground, I'll know to sit back on the couch and rest up a bit more.  But if I take that small step, and I don't fall, then I'll know I'm ready.  The glorious future God has promised me and my son is just up the path.  I don't have to be healed to get on that path, or to even walk down it.  I don't have to have every part of my life functioning in perfect order.  I just have to be ready. Ready to follow God when He says "take my hand Jenn, come and see what I have waiting for you!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Being Thought Of

There is something powerful about knowing people are thinking of you. It makes hard days easier, and good days better.  And this year, it made Christmas wonderful.

I woke up Christmas morning to several Merry Christmas texts on my phone. And they just kept coming all day!  I can't describe in words what those simple text messages did to me.  But I can say that they gave me strength.  They comforted my heart.  They let me know that even though I felt alone, I knew I wasn't!

My son and I had a wonderful Christmas.  It started with our normal Christmas Eve-eve sleepover with my step daughter.  She then spent most of Christmas Eve day with us.  We missed this time with her last year, and to me that was the best gift of all.  We had a very nice visit with my in-laws that afternoon as well.  On Christmas day we joined another single mom and her house for the afternoon, where the kids were able to play, and us moms were able to chat.  And for the evening, we went to my step daughter's house.  Her family welcomed us in, and made sure we knew that even though its a weird situation we are all connected, we are a family.

I was nervous to face Christmas day with out my late husband.  I was worried I would be all alone.  I was sure everyone would forget about me and the struggle I was facing that day.   But I was wrong!  Christmas was wonderful! It was a time of reconciliation, memories, and support.  Even though my family was far away, I still felt their love. And most importantly I spent it with my kids.  And that is what Christmas is about!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Where are you Christmas?

"Where are you Christmas?
Why can't I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me?
Why can't I hear music play?
My world is changing,
I'm rearranging.
Does that mean Christmas
changes too?"
-Faith Hill, Where are you Christmas

I can't put it any better than this.  While this isn't technically the first Christmas after my late husband's passing, I consider it the first one.  Last year we were in such a fog, just 4 weeks before he left us, and we were going through the motions.  But this year, I've had to face the entire Christmas season on my own. 

 I have always loved Christmas, the lights, the decorating, Christmas music, and of course the presents!  And this year I have been stepping out in faith and going through the motions of Christmas.  Its been different, its been hard.  Yes my life has changed and so has Christmas.  While the changes feel awkward and strange, I know that in time they will become the new normal.  

I'm facing Christmas this year in hope, and with a saddened but grateful heart.  I'm thankful for all the wonderful family Christmases we have shared in the past.  Remembering the Christmas we went to church in our jammies and slippers, because our Christmas tradition was to stay in our pajamas all day.  I'm remembering how excited he would get opening pounds and pounds of beef jerky.  I'm remembering all the Christmas movies we would watch, and how he would always say, "I want to be George Bailey."  

I choosing to have hope this holiday season.  Hope that my heart, and my family are healing.  Hope that we can find Christmas and enjoy it once again.  This hope is evident in the fact that my 15 year old step daughter is coming this year! It has always been tradition for her to wake up at our house on Christmas Eve and open presents.  Last year she just couldn't do it.  But this year she's rejoining us!  I'm so excited to share Christmas with her.  Together the three of us are forging a new road.  And somehow knowing that Jonathan can look down from Heaven and see us brings me such an amazing comfort.  I know that as we wake up and open presents, he will be with us.

So my friends, from the bottom of my heart I wish you a Merry Christmas.  May you once again find Christmas this year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hot Mess

Hot MessWhen ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty. (Urban Dictionary)


Some weeks I feel like I have my act together.  I'm emotionally strong, I'm healing, I'm living life. I can handle the regular twists and turns that life brings.  I'm not moved by little annoyances, or seemingly big obstacles.  My son and I are flowing together smoothly.  I enjoy spending time with him, and I have a strength and patience in my parenting.  Life is good. 


Other weeks I'm a hot mess! I look great on the outside, but inside I'm a disaster.  There is caution tape strewn everywhere: from my parenting to my emotions.  A pot hole feels like the grand canyon. I lack motivation.  Emotionally I am a wreck.  The grief wins out.  I've been strong too long, and I seem to fall apart. I can't handle even the smallest of confrontations with my son.  Oh, and I cry at the drop of the hat.  Life sucks.


My life for the past year has been a constant interchange of these two states: Ms. Act Together and Hot Mess.  Its confusing.  Its frustrating.  I feel like just when I think I'm on the mend, and can handle adding responsibilities back to my life... Hot Mess shows up.  It causes me to be hesitant.  I'm hesitant to commit myself to anything.  I may feel like I can handle it today, but who knows when Hot Mess will show up and how long she will stay.  I may not be able to keep this commitment two months from now.  So I'm afraid to even take it on.   I think, what am I doing?  Am I just not ready to take this on?


Ms. Act Together, and Hot Mess keep me guessing.  I never know who is gonna show up or when.  I feel like I have these two identities, neither of which are the real me.  It causes me to question if I'm really okay, even when I know I am.  It makes me long for the days when my life, my emotions, even the person who I am, was consistent! I told my pastor today, "I wish you knew me before this."  He lovingly and gently reminded me that God creates beautiful things out of brokenness.  Brokenness is a great place, because God Himself is recreating me.


Yes I am being recreated! No one enjoys living in a house while its being remodeled,  But when it is done, it was worth every inconvenience, every discomfort.  The house is better than it was before.  All the beauty that was originally there is added to; its enhanced.  I may be a mess right now, but I still look good to God!  He sees me finished.  And some day, you will see it too!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Moment

I have a question for you widows who have gone before me.  At what point do I stop having the moment? You know, your thinking about life as it used to be, or you think of your husband, and the reality hits you.  He's really gone. He's not coming back.  This is real.  In that moment life stops.  And you wonder if you've been living in a nightmare.  Reality strikes you, and its as if you'd never thought it before.  "He is really dead."  

Its been over a year and it seems odd to keep having these moments.  I was thinking about Jonathan, and how he only lived to be 38.  What a short life. What a waste of a life that could have been.  I was equating his age at death, to my age.  I'm almost 35.  What a shame it would be to end life so young and so early.  And thats when the moment came.  Its real.  It really happened.  He died and is now in heaven. And this Christmas season my heart is sad.  I'm missing him.  I wish our life together didn't end this way.  I wish we could have experienced that happily ever after I kept hoping for.  But it didn't happen.

As much as I've been sad and missing him, I have also been so mindful of his eternal life in Heaven.  I'm so aware now, that while we aren't experiencing life with him, he isn't missing out on our lives.  He knows, he sees, he hears.  And I look forward to the day when I will be reunited with him in Heaven.  

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

I find such comfort in these words.  I know that whether it be at the end of my life, or at Jesus' return that I will be with Jonathan again. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

From Heaven

I've wondered so often about what my late husband can see from Heaven.  I've wondered if he knows my struggles, and sees my victories.  Last week, during a discussion with my pastor, he shared  that biblically our loved ones can see us from heaven.  This brought such great comfort to me.  I've been struggling and I'm sure he sees it.  Today I found this poem, and it was such a blessing to me.  Especially because of my struggles and my striving for perfection and falling so short.  I really believe God wanted me to read this.  He wants me to hear these words as if Jonathan was speaking them directly to me.  May this poem bless you and bring you comfort this Christmas.

I still hear the songs
I still see the lights
I still feel your love
On cold winter nights

I still share your hopes
and all of your cares
I'll even remind you
to please say your prayers

I just want to tell you
you still make me proud
You stand head and shoulders
above all the crowd

Keep trying each moment
to stay in his grace
I come here before you
to help set your place

You dont have to be
perfect all the time
He forgives you the slip
if you continue to climb

To my family and friends
please be thankful today
I'm still close beside you
in a new special way

I love you all dearly
now don't shed a tear
Cause i'm spending my
Christmas with Jesus this year

-John Mooney, 1989

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Its been a while...

I've done it again. I continually set expectations on myself just slightly beyond what I am able to maintain.  Why do I do this?  Even when I'm trying not to, it still happens.  And that, my friends, is why I haven't posted in a few days.

Life has been crazy.  Its busy.  My son has become increasingly needy of my attention, and I'm finding myself more drained and exhausted than I was last year at this time.  You would think with time things would get easier.  I'd adjust to the new life, its rhythm and demands.  But things are easier.  They are hard.  And some days they are much harder than they were last year at this time.

I called a few of my single mom friends, and asked them, "What is wrong with me? Shouldn't I have adjusted by now?" They all reassured me that I am not screwed up.  Its normal.  And I'm living in a continual fluctuation.  There are seasons where I feel ready, able to take on more. And for a while I'm able to.  Then months later life fluctuates.  I can no longer take on what I was able to before.  Its like this on so many fronts.  Its confusing.  Its frustrating. Its exhausting.

A perfect example is the never ending bedtime saga.  Ever since my late husband's death, bed time with my son is a struggle.  This three and a half year old boy doesn't want to go to sleep anywhere but with me.  I believe this is the biggest source of my drain.  The three hour fight at night.  It seems that I'm able to find the "trick" that works, and it lasts for a short while.  Then... fluctuate!  Now that trick no longer gets him to bed easily and I'm back at square one trying every trick in the book to get this boy to sleep on time.

I find my life echoes this struggle.  What works for me today, may not work for me tomorrow.  What I'm able to handle emotionally this month, I may not be able to handle next month.  For a while I was able to handle posting Monday through Friday, but right now its very challenging.  I feel overwhelmed at the thought of all I need to get done, once my son finally gets to bed.  And when I don't post I feel like I've let myself and others down.  I'm in a process...

So while I work through this latest struggle, I ask for your patience.  I want nothing more than to be well rested, composed, and able to fulfill the demands I place on myself.  But I have to be honest with myself and work within my limits.  And right now I'm operating beyond them.  I'm making a point of taking time to make sure I get the rest I need.  We all need to do that.  If we don't take care of ourselves, who will?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Roller Coaster of Grief

As I walked out of church the other night, the words "I love my life" slipped out.  I was shocked, because less than one week ago I was sobbing in my room, tears streaming, "God, I hate my life."  How do you explain that?  Can it even been explained?  All I can say is: it's normal.

There are times in life when we are going to be hurting, sad, frustrated, depressed, and overwhelmed.  Almost like a situational depression comes upon you.  It lasts for moments, or a just a few days, and as quickly as it came, it leaves. 

Last week I had about 3 days of depression. We had just come home from our wonderful caribbean cruise.  I was exhausted.  My 3 year old was exhausted.  And we were both out of routine. What followed was several very difficult days.  Getting myself back in routine is one thing, but getting my son back is a whole different ball game.  After spending one full week sleeping in the same room with me, bedtime at home was now destroyed.  He wanted to sleep with me of course. And so begins the bedtime struggle.  We've had it over and over since his daddy died.

Thankfully, God continued to speak to me and encourage me, and the "down in the dumps" only lasted a few days.  I reached out to a few friends, and it helped!  Now this week, although I'm still fighting exhaustion, as we continue to work out the bed time issue, I am enjoying life again. I love my life!

As widows, we need to recognize that we are going to have these peaks and valleys.  Its normal!  We need to recognize that  there are wonderful things in our lives that can cause us to enjoy life despite our hurt and pain.  At the same time, we are constantly facing challenges, situations, and working through our grief.  We need to let ourself go through the cycles, and reach out for support from friends.  That said, we don't need to "feed" the down cycles either.  I personally feel that while the cycles are normal, we should be working through the days of depression, and not helping ourselves to get deeper into them.

When I feel the days of depression, I allow myself to cry.  I cry out to God.  I cry out to Jonathan.  I will also reach out to a friend, letting them know I am having a hard time.  I don't call for a pity party, I call for help.  I call for prayer.  I call for a listening ear.  I call because I need to talk my way through what I'm feeling.  Then I get out of the house.  I go for a run.  I go shopping.  I find some type of recreation which brings joy and takes my focus off the pain.  Most importantly I go to church! I get in His presence.  I celebrate all God has done for me! I may dance, I may cry, but something about God's presence changes my situation.  And that is why one week later I can say, "I love my life!"

We are riding an emotional roller coaster called grief.  We are going to have highs and lows, but just like a roller coaster, the highest highs, and the lowest lows are at the beginning.  As the ride continues, the highs and lows begin to balance out.  Grief will bring high highs, and low lows, but keep working it out.  Keep seeking God. Keep praying.  Life will become stable again.  It just takes time!


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I am Free!

"I'm free to run! 
I'm free to dance!
I'm free to live for you!
I am free!"

We sang this song at church yesterday morning and it is by far my favorite praise song.  When I sing those words, the reality of their truth in my life causes me to worship with such an extravagant joy.  One year ago I couldn't say that I was free.  And I hadn't been free for some time.  I had lived in a the midst of bondage, but I wasn't the one bound.  I was encompassed by darkness, even though I am the light.

I didn't realize how oppressed I was until I experience the freedom.  When I returned home after burying my husband the atmosphere in my home felt different.  It was lighter, it was thinner.  When I prayed, I connected with God in a way I longed to.  When I read the Bible I received amazing understanding, as if Jesus himself was talking on the phone with me.  And that struggle I had felt to maintain a deep prayer life and intimate connection with God was gone.  Prayer was easy.  Being diligent to read the Word was easy.  Worshipping was easy.

What happened?  I was under my husband's covering.  And because of the struggles he had, I was effected.  He brought a spiritual oppression into our home.  He was bound in chains of addiction, hate, and self-destruction.  And its presence in our home brought a spiritual resistance to my walk. Even though I was faithful to follow God, and continued walking in His ways, and seeking Him daily, it was a constant struggle.  It was never easy.  And I never gave up.

I didn't understand why my walk was so hard.  I always wondered what was wrong with me.  But it wasn't until after my late husband died, that I understood.  That oppression dissipated.  It left.  The freedom was indescribable and it was only after time that God revealed to me why I experienced the oppression and then the freedom.

So when I sing, "I'm free to run. I'm free to dance. I'm free to live for you. I am free!" This is what I think of.  I think how I was once bound even in my own home.  I reflect on how I wasn't free to dance before God.  I wasn't free to live for God.  I was facing a resistance in the spiritual realm.  And I was limited by my late husband's attitudes.  I couldn't dance.  I couldn't live for God the way I wanted to.

"But if the son has set you free, you are free indeed!"  I have been set free from the oppression. I'm free to live my life for God.  I'm free to worship Him as I feel necessary.  I'm free to fulfill my calling.  I am free!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Spirit

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Clearly the singer of that song hadn't recently lost a loved one.  What was once my favorite holiday is now a continual reminder that I am on my own.  I love Christmas, it is my favorite season.  But since the death of my late husband, its just different.  I don't have the Christmas spirit this year and I am purposefully forcing myself into the holiday mood.

In many ways this feels like the first Christmas without Him.  Last year Christmas was 4 weeks after his death.  I was still numb, and in shock.  The holidays were at best an after thought.  We made it through, but it wasn't at all a normal holiday season.  One tree, no decorations, no stockings, no nativity.  We barely had gifts and a tree.  This year is different.  This year it is a normal Christmas season. And I'm facing it on my own. It is so awkward and strange.  It feels a little more empty than I remember it, almost like I'm forgetting something, or something is missing.

He is missing. We did everything together.  We set up the tree together.  We decorated the house together.  We watched Christmas movies together.  And now I'm not wanting to do any of it because it feels strange. I know though, that it is in my best interest to take this Christmas season head on, instead of avoid it.  I'm forcing the Christmas spirit, but it needs to be done.  And the quicker I begin new traditions and find "my" way through the holidays, the better off I'll be.

Where to start?  Well, we need a tree.  A real tree was just to hard without a man around, so I ordered a fake one for the first time ever.  Tree... check!  It came, and on Saturday while my step daughter was over we decided to put it up.  Look at me, I'm making Christmas happen!  That is until I realize the tree stand that is included in the box... wasn't.  I wanted to lose it and cry.  After all, I'm really trying here and I didn't need that.  We put the tree on hold, as we wait for the tree stand to be shipped out.  And the Christmas spirit that had started to flutter through the home, escaped out the window.

What else is there? How about some Christmas songs?  Easy.  I turn on Pandora Radio.  Holiday music... check!  Big tree is a bust, but we have a little tree for the front window, let's start there.  I bought new ornaments last year, and we decided to put them on this tree.  A small way to change things up as I recreate a new norm for the holidays.  Music is playing, kids are hanging ornaments, Christmas spirit is once again stirring.  Small Tree Decorated... check.

Let's move on... the stair case! I hung lighted garland across the hallway and up the stairs.  By now I'm actually enjoying the decorating.  "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas."  My son and I set out our Nativity set, which is by far my favorite Christmas decoration! I have a growing collection of Fontanini pieces, which is the nativity version of a Christmas village.  My son and I talk about each piece and their role in the Christmas story as we set them out.  We set baby Jesus behind the stable, and I tell my son that on Christmas morning, when Jesus is born, he will place Him in the manger.  The true meaning of Christmas... check!

The decorating continues with poinsettia plants on the stairs and fireplace, a tree on the landing, and trees on the front porch.  Now comes the decision.  Should I do outside lights on the bushes?  This was Jonathan's task, which I asked each year, and he hated doing.  I've never done outside lights, do I really want to take this on?  Well if I'm finding my own groove to Christmas, then there will be lights on the bushes.  And on all of them!  Glowing bushes... check!  I felt very proud and accomplished to do the outside lights. I'm making my way.  I'm surviving.  I'm independent and capable.  It actually feels pretty great.  Just some lights on the bushes, but a huge affirmation to me!

By now the Christmas spirit is flowing up and down the stairs, through every room and even found its way in my heart.  It worked!  I made the conscious choice to make my own Christmas, to find new traditions, and get excited about the season.  The emptiness is much more subtle, and I'm looking forward to Christmas.  I have set up a few Christmas events at my house right before the holiday.  Again, I know that something positive to look forward to will help ease the sting of the holiday season.

I challenge you to invite the Christmas spirit in your home.  Even you don't feel like it, just get it stirring.  Make your list, and start checking off what you need to find your new groove for the holidays.  Plan a few activities or events you never did before, and give yourself something to look forward to.  Welcome the holidays! They are coming regardless, and how you approach it determines whether you will survive or thrive!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Reality of Heaven

As a Christian we know heaven exists. We read the accounts in the Bible describing it. And we are confident in knowing that Jesus really does go to to prepare a place for us. But it isn't until the day you lose someone you love as much as life, that it becomes a reality. 

Becoming a widow brought an entirely new perspective of eternity. The moment I walked into the hospital room and saw his lifeless body I knew the truth of our three part being: spirit, soul and body. There was his body, empty, void; a shell that once cased my husband. The actually body wasn't what I loved, it was his spirit, the real man. And that day his spirit departed. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8) I know that heaven is a reality and my husband is there. He is not the body he left behind, he is the man, the spirit that lives forever in glory. 

Despite my knowledge of this truth, I still feel compelled to honor his body. At the funeral and visitation I couldnt stop touching him. Weird, I know. I had never touched a dead body until his. And I couldnt stop. I kept playing with his hair, holding his hands, and I kept right by His side. At the very last moment I kissed his forehead one last time. I know it's just a shell, but that shell housed the man I loved and it meant something to me. 

In my visits to the cemetery I often wonder why I'm even there, because I know that Jonathan isn't. His spirit isn't there. He's in heaven with our savior Jesus. Even so, I still go. I still visit on important occasions or when I feel the need. And I talk to him. I often wonder if God allows him to see. If God shows him the times I cry at his grave, or if God let's him hear what I'm saying. I'm not certain that He does. But there is something healing in going. There's a healing that occurs when I talk to him or when I cry.  It's my way of getting closure. His grave is a frame of reference. Someplace I can go to identify with my husband, and the loss. 

Since his death I've had moments of great accomplishment, that he never would have believed.  Oddly, if he were here, these accomplishments never would have happened. Moments like  finishing my first half marathon, or repelling down a 4 story building. I want him to see, so I ask God to open up heaven and show him.  

I know if he could see me now he'd be so proud!  Even if he never sees my victories, I ask God anyway.  Even if he never hears a word I say, I speak anyway. If he never sees a tear I cry, I cry anyway.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Just Listen

Sometimes I'm having one of those days, like I am today.  I feel overwhelmed. I feel like I'm failing everyone.  I feel like I can't live up to my own expectations, let alone anyone else's.  I feel much like Paul did in 2 Corinthian 1:8 when he said, "we were so utterly and unbearably weighed down and crushed that we despaired even of life itself".  Its times like these that I have learned to reach out to others and share my struggles.  Paul started out the verse 8 by saying he didn't want people to be uninformed about his troubles.  I believe there is a spiritual benefit to sharing with others.  


I can't even begin to fathom what all the benefits may be of sharing my struggles, but if God said to do it, I trust He has good reasons.  I have noticed though a few of these benefits along the way.  The first is it helps me to process and fully understand what it is I am dealing with, or working through.  I have also noticed that when people know I'm struggling they pray more, and those prayers make a difference.  Also people will reach out to me.  Usually when I share about having a hard time, several people will call or text and just encourage me!  This is so needed.  There is nothing worse than hurting, feeling the pressure of life pressing on you, and being alone.  That can be a very dangerous place.  We aren't designed to do anything alone.  God Himself isn't alone.  He is a three part being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each fulfilling a different aspect of the Godhead.  So why is it we feel we have to do everything all on our own, without support from anyone? It seems a little unrealistic to me!


Hard days come, and when they do, and I'm not able to break through it, I reach out.  These are critical and vulnerable moments.  I'm being naked before my friends, exposing all that I am.  I feel that I'm risking disappointment.  I feel that I'm risking my witness by not being "super woman".  As I share my hurts, struggles, and frustrations, I'm looking for one thing: a listening ear.  That's all I really need at that point.  Listen to my heart.  Listen to my pain.  Listen to my struggles, questions, and confusion.  As you listen God will give you insight to pray for me.  As you listen, reach out with a hug, or a hand of compassion. 


One thing I ask though, as you listen to me in those intense moments where I reach out, please don't try to solve my problem.  I've vulnerable, I'm hurting, I'm doing the best I can in this difficult situation, and your advice or seemingly helpful ideas are like salt in my wounds.  I know its good intentions.  I know your trying to help.  But when you stop listening, and start solving, you reinforce the inadequacy I already feel.  In this moment I feel like a failure, and your suggestions of what to do different seem to confirm it.  "Yes Jenn, your doing something wrong.  If you'd do it like this, you wouldn't feel this way."  It hurts.  It closes me off.  And it doesn't solve my situation.  I've encountered this time and time again. Sometimes its putting my son to bed, dealing with his accidents, my busy schedule, or the disappointment of being alone.  There is nothing more aggravating than someone telling me "I need to...".  You don't really understand my journey.  You can't even begin to fathom my life.  And you honestly have no idea what I need to do. My situation is unique, and what may work under normal circumstances may not work under mine.


 For years I've been living under the dictates of a strong leader.  And over the past year I have had to start to learn my own way.  I'm redefining myself, and my life. I'm relearning how to live.  And the last thing I desire right now in this challenging season of discovery is someone telling me what to do.  God is teaching me how to think on my own.  How to turn to Him to be my husband.  I'm learning to make mistakes and learn from them, all on my own.  The advice of outsiders only hinders this process.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone feels the need to share it.  And each opinion is different. It only brings frustration and confusion.  I need to cling to God more than anyone else.  I need to know His voice behind me saying, "this is the way, walk in it".  So I ask you, when I share, please just listen. Then pray. Pray that God will give me direction, that I will hear His voice, and that His comfort and strength will once again come and rescue me.


"[For it is He] Who rescued and saved us from such a perilous death, and He will still rescue and save us; in and on Him we have set our hope (our joyful and confident expectation) that He will again deliver us [from danger and destruction and draw us to Himself]."  2 Corinthians 1:10 amplified

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give Yourself Permission

Last night was a late night.  I knew I'd face some big adjustments coming home from our vacation.  As it turns out, my son rather enjoyed sleeping in the same room with mommy, and decided we should continue it at home.  A three and a half hour battle ensued, after which I was finally victorious; and he fell asleep in his own room.  If I could have turned in a resignation slip on my life, I would have. I was that worn out and frustrated.  I knew at 11:30 pm, that waking my son up for preschool at 7:45 the next morning was going to be a challenge, if not impossible.  When the alarm started going off at 7, I made the decision.  I gave myself permission to forgo our normal schedule and let him sleep in.

Setting aside a schedule? Missing preschool?  Canceling a business meeting? Nine months ago I would never have let myself out of these commitments.  And if I had, I would have beat myself up for days about being irresponsible, wasting money, or being lazy.  Yet over the course of the last year I have learned sometimes I need to give myself permission to back out, for something more important.  After a long and crazy busy week on a cruise, both my son and I were overtired.  And it showed in our emotions and interactions with each other. Add to that the cold we were both fighting, and a little extra sleep was probably the wisest choice.  I wasn't being irresponsible or lazy. In fact I was doing the opposite.  Setting aside a commitment and schedule for our best interest: our emotional, and our physical health, was the right choice.

I give myself permission to rest when I need it. I give myself permission to stay home from events when I need it.  I give myself permission to take extra time for me when I need it.  I give myself permission to recover and to heal!  After all, I just walked out of tragedy, three years worth, and it takes a toll on a person.  I'm in a healing process.  Think about your physical body.  When a muscle is injured, it hurts.  Not just at the moment the injury occurs, but even after.  The mobility and use of that muscle is limited.  The impact of that limitation comes on suddenly, and with time it slowly improves.  But it is gradual and it is a process.  The same applies to tragedy and loss.  When tragedy hit my life, my mobility was impacted dramatically.  And as time goes on the pain subsides, and I begin to regain mobility.  But it doesn't happen overnight.

 I remember vividly the first time I gave myself permission, without feeling any guilt.  It was last May when I was experiencing an emotional meltdown.  I was completely overwhelmed.  I had lost my husband, and repressed my grief.  I was teaching, running a business, and trying to figure out single motherhood.  I was involved in 2 moms groups, and serving weekly in a healing ministry.  It was so much more than I should have been doing, and more than I could handle.  It was the equivalent of running a marathon on a sprained ankle.  My mobility was limited, but I just kept going.  It hurt. And I crashed! I rolled over that Thursday morning as my alarm went off, and I knew I didn't have it in me physically to go to the last moms meeting. So I texted in that I wasn't coming.  I went back to bed without even flinching. Even though I was the leader of that small group, I knew I needed to take care of me at that moment.  And I did.

Since then I've become better at giving myself permission.  I can't say I'm perfect, or that I don't miss opportunities to step back, but I'm better.  Today was one of those days where I did what was right for me, and my son.  And I'm proud of myself for being bold enough to make the call.  I proud that I've learned to give myself permission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Not a Competition

While wading through the crystal blue waters of Roatan, I met a very interesting divorced woman, also a single mother.  We commented on how nicely our children were playing together, and she quickly began telling me her "sob story."  She was a single mom of 4 children, who's ex husband had an affinity for sleeping with younger women while they were married.  It was a sad story.  As we spoke, I shared a just a few details of my story, not really wanting to divulge all the details to a complete stranger in search of their pity.  I'm not really a pity-party kind of girl.  I always end up pulling people out of the pit, instead of crawling in it with them. So right off the bat, this was an odd connection.

Fast forward a few days, to the beach on Cozumel.  This same woman arrives to the beach, shortly after me, along with her friend.  They find a beach chair right next to mine, and we begin chatting.  I begin talking with the friend, while this woman goes off to situate her children.  The friend and I happen to have a few things in common, and so I share a bit of my story with her; my way of saying, "I can relate."  As the woman returns, she comments to her friend, "My story is worse than hers, isn't it?" I couldn't believe it. Did I really just hear those words?  Are we now moving from a sisterhood of women who have "been there, done that", to a competition of whose husband was worse?  This is not a game that I am going to play!  I let the comment slip past, and continued a rather light and fluffy conversation until they left. But that comment has stuck with me since I heard it.  And it definitely rubbed me the WRONG way!

In contemplating that whole situation, I have realized several things.  First of all, the way she presented herself offended me.  It shut me off to her.  It made me feel that she wasn't sharing to relate or help me, but was looking for sympathy, even pity.  It was all about her.  I made a mental note to myself to be careful when I share my story to others to watch my motive, and how I come across.  Do not share for pity.  If I choose to share it should be with a sincere heart, and to glorify God for His faithfulness throughout a horrible situation.  I should always share with the intent of helping the other, not one-upping her.  As God has brought comfort to me in my affliction, now I must bring that comfort to others in theirs.  If I can keep this motive evident in the way I talk with women, then they will receive from me the words which God is placing in me.  They will receive the comfort and God can use me to help them through their time of difficulty.

Second, I realized that regardless of who had been through more drama, or the worst situation, is irrelevant.  Her pain was worse to her because she lived it!  She didn't live my story, so no matter how horrific it was, it wasn't real to her.  No matter who I meet, their story is worse than mine in their eyes, because they lived it.  What an powerful realization! As God continues to bring me before women who are hurting, women who have been abused, and women who have been betrayed I must remember this.  Their reality, to them, is worse than what I have gone through.  I need to talk with and treat them through this light.  It doesn't matter if my situation was worse, they didn't walk mine.  They are walking theirs.  And to them it is their own personal hell.

Finally I learned that we are not in competition.  As women we have a tendency to see each other as competition.  But wounded women shouldn't wound each other.  Instead of competing for pity, attention, or accolades, we should be joining together.  I feel a sisterhood with each widow I meet.  Each woman who has struggled with her husband's addictions, or has been betrayed,  I identify with her.  I want to link arms, walk together, and help her conquer the struggles she faces.  I don't view her as the enemy; someone who could steal my thunder.  But rather, I lay down my story, my attention, for the sake of her victory.  It is my hope that as you read these posts we continue to link arms and walk together.  That as I share my heart and my experiences you find strength and comfort.  That God is binding us together virtually as a sisterhood of women who are conquering the challenges of life.  

I don't want attention.  I don't pity.  I share because I want to help YOU! I want you to know you are not alone.  There is a woman out there who understands.  I get it.  I'm hear to say what you are experiencing is normal! Its part of the process, so keep walking it out! And I tell my story to bring you hope.  What God is doing for me, He will do for you!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Be Aware

My son and I were returning to the ship after a long day at the beach in Grand cayman. As we are sitting aboard the tender, on our 15 minute trip from shore to the boat my son falls asleep. Not just an ordinary mid day nap. No this is the "might as well be dead because no matter what you do I'm laying here... unresponsive" kind of sleep. It wasn't until we arrived along side the ship to embark that I realized the dilemma I now faced. As the boat is violently rocking side to side I debate it my mind how to carry my 34 pound son who is nothing more than deadweight. How am I realistically going to carry him, my purse, beach bag and shopping bag safely out of the boat, up the stairs and over onto our ship without either of us crashing or falling as the boat thrashes side to side? I look around and think to myself,  "I'll wait until it's just about our turn and as I pick him up, juggling his flailing body amongst the bags, someone will notice and offer to help." So as our turn arrived I shuffled him and the bags around, grasping to anything I could reach along the sides of the boat, to keep steady through the waves. 

Now earlier in the day a woman aboard my trip had complimented me on how brave I was for traveling on my own with a 3 year old. I told her that in the past year ive learned to be brave. You either get brave and attempt things on your own or you sit home and miss out. I've decided life isn't gonna stop for my son and I just because it stopped for Jonathan. So challenging, difficult, or even scary at times we are going to enjoy life!  And we did!  We enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach together. 


I've also learned that being a single mom is not in any way easy. Sometimes you can handle all it brings. Othertimes it can be completely overwhelming. I've lost all sense of "superwoman" pride. I don't have to be able to do it all and my own and thats okay. There are going to be times that I need help. It's not a reflection of me. And accepting help when I need is not a sign of weakness as I used to feel. It's a sign of strength. It takes a strong woman to realize her limits and accept the blessings God sends along the way. He didn't create a superwoman. He created a mother to be part of a team, and my design didn't change just because I became widowed. I still need to be part of a team to raise this boy. That hasn't changed, however my "team" has. 

Today I was counting on the kindness of strangers to be my teammate. And I was left dissapointed and frustrated. I stepped cautiously across the ship, my son sagging lower and lower with each step. Eventually I reached the top of the steps unassisted and extremely afraid. Carrying myself across the bridge to the ship without falling would have been an amazing feat. Could no one on board the tender have noticed my struggling and that I was alone? I suppose for a small number that may have been true. But what about the rest? Were they too consumed in their lives to want to interfere?  Perhaps they didn't want to be bothered?  Whatever their reason I was extremely disappointed in my fellow cruisers. Not one person offered to help. That is until I made it over the bridge, through security and baggage scanning. When I arrived in the elevator to head to my room a very young couple in their twenties offered assistance. Which I gladly accepted, although I had already made it through the obstacle course that was the ship re-entry, and was in the home stretch. [I should mention that I did ask for assistance from the crew to cross from the tender to the ship because I was afraid I'd drop him. And the ship staff assisted myself and my son across.]

So what's my point in sharing this story?  It is not meant as a complaint or a way to vent my frustration with the world. Rather it is meant to be a thermometer for us, myself included. Let's not be so consumed with our own life that we miss the opportunities in front of us each and everyday to be Jesus to the world. Open our eyes. Look around. Do u see a single mom in need, balancing a sleeping child and shopping bags?  Offer to help, for likely she is hoping someone will notice her and come to her rescue. Perhaps it's the widow who doesn't now how to prepare her house for winter and needs a helping hand. Maybe it's an older woman at your church who is lonely and longs for an invitation to dinner. Let's open our eyes. Let's be the blessing God sends to those in need. Lets be Jesus to the world! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jonathan-ized

I catch myself at different times saying something I haven't heard in over a year.  And my first thought, "I've been Jonathan-ized."  When someone I cared about betrayed me, my first words were "What a pig-dog!" Yes that was a Jonathan phrase.  Or when I was working hard to paint some rooms in my house, I was "jammin'".   Its those little phrases and actions which are so uniquely him.  And I continue to find them coming out of me, even as time passes.

In a way its really refreshing.  It's a small way that he left his mark on my life.  Its a simple reminder that even though its seems like a different life, lived by a different woman, I really did have him in my life.  Its a reminder that I was once one with another, someone that I loved.

There are other ways he left his finger print on my life, deeper than simple sayings.   Jonathan taught me how to include children into everything we did.  When I married him he had a 5 year old daughter, who quickly became my daughter as well.  And when we had her over the weekends, she was always included in whatever we were doing.  Whether it was raking leaves, making dinner, or painting a room.  We would always simplify the task to include her.  That is something I have carried with me.  When my son expresses interest in making dinner, or helping me paint my bathroom, I make a way for him to help.  Thank you Jonathan for teaching me that.

The biggest life lesson I learned from Jonathan, although it was rather indirect, was to see the best in people.  As I've shared before Jonathan had struggles.  He was emotionally damaged which led to many of the "symptoms" and issues he struggled with in life.  But I never defined him by the issues.  I separated the man from the problems.  That's a very hard thing to do.  But for me, with him, it was easy.  I always saw the best in him.  I always believed he was able, and capable. I knew he was not the man he appeared to be by his actions.  Jonathan taught me how to look past a person's struggles and see the heart of the man inside.  Because of that I can say in confidence he was a good man.  He was so much better than what he settled for in life.  I never stopped doubting, I never stopped believing.  I always hoped he would see what I did, and become the man he was created to be.

Someday when I enter heaven, I am going to meet that man.  I will finally see the man on the outside matching the man I knew to be on the inside.  I'm going to see a man who is free.  He will be emotionally whole: no limits, no chains, no walls.  Its going to be amazing to truly see the man I loved exactly as he maker designed him to be!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's Been One Year

Today, November 24th, is the one year anniversary of my husband's passing.  And so today, I want to introduce him to you.  But before I do, there is a song.  This song was on my heart all night as I tossed and turned that night.  I hardly knew it.  And when I awoke and listened to it, God spoke to my heart: This is what Jonathan would tell you today!  You need to know that Jonathan loved the Lord.  But he struggled deeply in this life.  He lived in bondage, and in chains.  And those chains held him back from experiencing the true love of God that He desires for us to know.  This song has continued to bring such healing, peace and confirmation to me throughout the past year.  Because I know that he is finally free!

This is Jonathan's song to me from heaven.  Born Again, Third Day

Friends, I would like to introduce you to my late husband, Jonathan.  Below is his obituary.

Jonathan, age 38, died on Wednesday, November 24, 2010. He  graduated from Ferndale High School. He was the president of Excellent Window Cleaning, in Rochester, Michigan since its formation in 1995. He was passionate about his business and loved the challenge of taking it to new levels. He cared greatly for his employees and partnered with them to succeed in work and in their personal life. He was a leader in the International Window Cleaning Association, having served several terms on the Board of Directors, and most recently served as Secretary. In 2009 he received the Ettore Award for lifetime achievement in the window cleaning industry. Jonathan enjoyed sunset cruises on the boat, and rebuilding classic cars; a 1951 Ford Truck & 1960 MGA. He was a devoted father. He loved the time he had with his children (Shannon, 13; Gabriel 2) and when they were with him the whole world stopped. He would spend hours on the floor playing games or scooping beans with construction tractors. He loved simple walks down the street, and summer trips to Crystal Mountain with his family. He and his wife would enjoy weekend trips to  Lake Michigan, classic car shows, and any adventure they found themselves in. Surviving Wife: Jennifer - they married July 13, 2002 Surviving Children: Shannon and Gabriel 


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Single Mom

Today was a hard day.  Perhaps I'm a little emotionally sensitive with the anniversary around the corner.  Perhaps I'm a little overwhelmed preparing for the trip.  But today was just plain tough!!!  Being a single mom is by far the most difficult side-effect of my late husband's death.  I can deal with the grief.  I can learn how to take care of my car.  I can even assume his duties around the house and at work.  But I can't become a dad.  There is a huge void that was left in our lives, and no matter how hard I try I can not fill that spot. I'm not a dad. I never will be.  I can't be both mommy and daddy.

Single motherhood is hard.  Its challenging.  Its draining. It wasn't my choice.  I have been thrown into it and I'm really trying my best to be a good mom.  But days like today I look at myself and feel like the worst mother in the world. I hate how I had little patience today.  I hate how I couldn't get my 3 1/2 year to comply.  I hate the looks people must have given me as I struggled with him in Kroger.

There is a reason that God required a mom and a dad for a baby to be created.  Because we are not made to do it alone.  That child needs both a mother and a father.  And to be honest, the mom and dad need each other. There is a support, an encouraging, a help and a relief that comes when you parent together.  I don't have that anymore and it breaks my heart.  There is nothing more disappointing than wanting to be the best mom that you can be, to guide, protect and help your son, but because of circumstances you are a substandard mom.  I'm not saying my feelings are realistic, I may be a totally awesome mom in reality, but I don't feel like it.  I know in my gut that I am doing the best job that I can, but I often walk away feeling that I fell short of what I am capable of.  I wonder if other single moms feel that way too.

I'm trying to take one day, one moment, one issue at a time.  I'm trying not to overwhelm myself with the big picture. I'm trying not to blame myself for my son's behaviors and actions.  I'm trying...    I'm trying to lean on God for strength and wisdom.  I'm trying to approach situations differently with him when something isn't working.  I'm trying to stop and enjoy the simple moments with him.  I'm trying....  I'm trying to be more patient.  I'm trying not to react in frustration.  I'm trying to hug and cuddle and love him more.  I'm trying....