Looking Back…and Ahead
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe?” ~John 11:25
October 12 is just around the corner…the day when I last saw the face of my beloved Chris and felt his breath on my own face as I lay near him before he flew into the arms of Jesus. These past few days and weeks, I’ve been reliving memory after memory of our life together—funny comments he would make or heartfelt, passionate prayers he would pray to our Savior, strong words he would speak into my children’s lives in his desire to see them walk with the Lord.
I can hear his loud strong voice praising God in song; I can see strength in his inner man, even as his body was fading away the last couple years of his life. I can see the man who loved me and the kids so deeply and the Lord even more deeply and I am grateful to my God. And by His grace, I can even see him in heaven rejoicing in the presence of his King.
It’s strange, but in some ways, he still seems with us. His presence was so big and his interaction with our lives was so constant and natural that it isn’t like he’s really gone; perhaps out of sight and out of ear-reach, but here with us nonetheless.
Looking back over this past year, however, more often than not I have felt his absence. I have never once doubted the Lord was with us, but I’ve still deeply missed Chris. I have related to the man in the famous Christian poem who looks back at his life and at times sees two sets of footprints where the Lord was walking by my side. At other times, only one set of footprints could be seen; it was then that the Lord carried him when he was not strong enough to walk by himself.
This past year (and several years!), the Lord has definitely been carrying me most of the way. Sometimes He carried me by coming alongside with reminders of His presence and the gift of tangible expressions of His love through dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Other times God carried me more literally when I couldn’t see where to walk or didn’t have the strength or courage to take another step. These times have included some of the loneliest and most painful moments I have ever experienced and places when I was completely overwhelmed with life as a widow now.
“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ~G.K. Chesterton
Knowing the Lord is with me, however, makes all the difference in the world! Friends and family come and go, like the ocean’s tide ebbing and flowing. We were never meant to completely depend on people the way God calls us to depend on Him. It is in those darkest moments, when we feel most alone that we can have the certain assurance our Father is there. Would we really know this if all was well, if things were going our way, if we didn’t experience pain or loss or suffering?
WALKING UPHILL…A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
Saturday I went hiking with my children (including Ben & Bethany who have been visiting me this past weekend) in the Shenandoah National Park. Our favorite trail leading up to Stony Man Mountain summit which we’ve climbed for several years now (since John was about three years old, and when Chris could actually make the ascent), deposits you, when you reach the top, on the edge of some rocky bluffs overlooking miles and miles of the Shenandoah Valley. It is an exhilaratingly breathtaking site that has never ceased to put awe in my heart for God’s amazing creation. Today was no exception, and it blessed me very much to share this experience for the first time with my dear son-in-law, Ben!
I must admit I was a bit nervous about taking the hike this time because I haven’t exercised regularly since Chris became seriously ill with the MS almost two years ago. Oh, I meant to, but just didn’t make the time for it because there always seemed to be so many more important needs around me. As we started up the mountain I thought, “I hope I don’t slow my kids down too much having to stop and let my heart rate slow down!” They were not only very gracious and patient with me, but I actually did better than I thought I would. I guess walking around Scotland last month for two weeks helped!
On the way up I also thought about the past couple of years of our life; the trek has seemed all uphill for us, and the path has often felt closed in shadow where very little sunshine could get through. When you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death with no view of the ascent in sight, it can be tempting to despair that you’ll ever see the sun shine through again. It is easy to become discouraged and feel that you’ll never get to the crest of this difficult uphill climb.
In the months leading up to his death Chris struggled so hard to do everything, when he faced long stretches of depression and even anger over things he was losing (like his taste buds on his last birthday when I had made a special dinner of coconut shrimp—his favorite meal was shrimp—and he couldn’t even taste it!)
I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get through a month, let alone a week (or even a day many times!) I felt helpless to encourage Chris, let alone myself. That walk felt all uphill and the path seemed very dark.
One day last year while having my morning devotional time with God, He gave me this thought to encourage me:
“There is no small amount of peace to be had when one yields themselves completely to the Lord, their Maker and Sustainer. Even the quaking heart and trembling hands can be offered up to Him in worshipful surrender.
The Lord does not despise the weakest of these gifts. Rather, He delights to show Himself mighty to the frail heart, strong to the weak-kneed, generous to the poor in spirit, gracious to those who bow in humility before Him.
Doubt you not, the greatness of our God, but cast yourself wholly on His goodness, O my soul!”
The climb was definitely uphill Chris’s last year with us, but having a different perspective based on the knowledge of God’s goodness and power helped me to press on in hope.
LOOKING BACK TO ANOTHER HIKE…
A year ago my children and I again had hiked the Stony Man Mountain trail, shortly after Chris passed away, with my daughter Megan and Brendan (then newly engaged) who had flown in from Chattanooga to join us for Chris’s memorial service weekend. As with Ben, I was glad to share our family tradition and this new experience with Brendan, my future son-in-law. It was a happy moment in the midst of our great sadness in losing Chris.
When I look back over our past year the way again has been very much uphill, not only for me but also for my children. My son-in-law Ben and daughter Bethany moved back to Virginia this past December. While I’m thankful to have them back and glad Bethany is able to finish her last year at Patrick Henry College, the reason they are back is painful for them. Ben, who had been in the jet program for the US Marines when they married two years ago, had that door closed to him last December. He loved flying for the Marines and still has a deep desire to fly, but for a reason only He knows, the Lord has said “no” for the time being.
Wondering what God has in mind, Ben is waiting on the Lord for His leading for this new season in his and Bethany’s life together.
Meanwhile Megan, who is home now for a short visit, called two weeks ago to tell me that her fiancée Brendan (after asking her to marry him just over a year ago right before her daddy died), called off their engagement. Of course she is heartbroken; not only was Brendan her fiancée, he is her best friend. Her pain is intense, but Megan is purposing in her heart to believe in God’s goodness and faithful love toward her through this loss. She knows the Lord is with her and is pursuing Him and His Word with all her heart, looking to Him to be her Reward and source of joy and strength.
The Lord gave me this poem last summer when I asked Him to speak to my heart with His reassuring love:
Through bleakest night
Too dark for sight
My Father still is there
Though feeling lost
And tempest tossed
I’m held within His care
His promise given
I am to live in
God holds my hope secure
THINKING ABOUT MOVING...
This past summer after spending much time talking to the Lord about the idea, I sensed God might be leading us to sell our home and move north, closer to our church family and HSLDA. Chris and I talked about this idea about two years ago, but with his significant health needs, we both realized it just wasn’t a possibility. In very small steps I explored some homes in the area that could be a great fit for our family, as well as serve as a ministry base for doing/teaching art and practicing hospitality (both ideas I’m very passionate about!).
With courage in my heart from God’s Spirit, I found a great home that unfortunately was three weeks under contract. A month later I discovered another home that seemed really wonderful, only to learn that it is situated on a hundred-year flood plain and that it had indeed been completely flooded out and restored in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel came through.
Disappointed, I decided to wait a little before looking for another home. Then one afternoon I had a window of time and decided to look. This time I found a home that, when I toured it immediately felt this was the perfect place for us, a home that would combine the living space I wanted for our family and room for practicing hospitality. In addition, it had an amazing old 1820 stone barn that with not too much work could be turned into a terrific art studio and gallery, as well as a beautiful place to hold church functions like weddings and receptions!
I tried to hold it loosely in my hands while I started to take steps to get our house ready to put on the market. I was hopeful that as it hadn’t had any activity since it was listed the end of July God might save it for us. Last Tuesday I found out that someone put a contract on it. The buyers have already sold their home and everything is on a steady course to go to closing.
Do I feel devastated? I do. I shouldn’t be teary over losing this home, but I am. Some of my kids have said, “Mom, it’s only a house,” but it represents so much more than that to me. It marks the hopeful, expectant embrace of this new season of our lives in the goodness of God, accompanied by anticipation of entering in to what I believe the Lord is calling me to. While I cherish all the memories we have here in our home of over 20 years (the only home our children have ever known and the one that houses all the memories they have of their dad), their openness to start fresh in a new place, making new memories together has been an encouragement to me. Yet God has called me to wait again on Him.
LOOKING BACK WHILE LOOKING AHEAD
Yes, looking back the path seems very different than when we started out last year. God took Chris home just a year ago. Then in December He took the Marine jet program away from Ben, followed by last month taking Brendan away from Megan. And now He’s taken away this house.
Last year, just after I started this CaringBridge site, I wrote an entry pondering this thought from one of my favorite writers, Andree Seu—
“When I pray, am I open to the possibility that God will not answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, but this instead, ‘You have no idea what’s going on behind the curtain of your sensate reality, so you best make up your mind once and for all—I do love you. Will you trust Me?’ ”
I am praying that God will give all of us grace to trust Him and worship Him while we are waiting, like John Waller's song from the movie Fireproof:
“While I’m waiting I will serve You
While I’m waiting I will worship
While I’m waiting I will not faint
I’ll keep running the race, even while I wait.”
“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” ~Job 42:2
As we reach the one year anniversary of Chris’s death tomorrow, we’re still climbing. The path is still steep and often shrouded in shadow. The Lord, however, has been, is and will continue to be with us, guiding us in His perfect wisdom, power and love.
Dear friend, when your path seems steep and the way seems dark, your soul needs to be reminded that God, who is on the throne, is mindful of our frailty and fear. He is ever-present to help, to cheer, to carry us if necessary. For those in Christ, He IS working all things together for our good in His great love!
Thank you for keeping our family in your prayers!
God is good…all the time,