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Monday, August 29, 2011

My First Guest Post

Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer, and I am honored to say today I am guest posting on The Pangea Blog, which is the place he calls home. Part of his life story is one of a church leader who found himself hiding behind doctrine and religion, and instead of staying put he followed the Spirit when it told him to "come out of the theological closet". He is real, uplifting, inspiring, and he always makes me laugh. He is someone I relate to, connect with, and respect greatly. He is currently working on promoting a video for Compassion that deals with the need to supply clean water for everyone on the planet - watch the video here and the vote for it here!

The first post I read of Kurt's was the one comfortably stationed on his home page at all times, "You Might Be An Evangelical Reject If ...". When I read it for the first time I laughed, nodded, and 'Amen'ed my way through the entire list. Kurt's ability to address {and question} in a light-hearted {and relevant} manner what I sometimes feel {and think} was beyond refreshing.

Through our social media connections I now call Kurt a friend. He asked me to write a post in regards to my grief journey, and I was happy to. I'm excited to share that guest post with you, my readers. It starts like this ...

"Imagine it’s a Friday night like any other. Your husband, sick from a cold, went to bed early. So you decide to spend some time alone. You pick out a good bottle of wine and some scrap-booking supplies, and spend a quiet evening enjoying some Riesling, being with your thoughts, and reminiscing on family times through the photos laid out before you. Around two in the morning your evening of solace comes to an end. Since the better half isn’t feeling well, it will no doubt be you getting up early the next morning with your two little ones.

As you hit the landing of the two-story home, you look up the stairwell, and sitting there still as a statue in the bay window is Jesus. He doesn’t have the long blond hair and blue eyes your faithful Lutheran grandmother always led you to believe He did, but nonetheless you would know Him anywhere. Your knees buckle, your stomach lurches, and you get so dizzy you almost fall over. The ‘Jesus Christ?’ uttered under your breath is far too ironic. Your mind races – it doesn’t feel like the rapture, and since you don’t qualify for the next virgin birth – you know this can’t be good.

He reaches out for your hand, and you go to Him. He then speaks, as kindly as one would imagine Jesus would. He tells you that when you finish the walk up to the bedroom, the room you share with your beloved, your spouse will wake up and be unable to breathe."


Please visit The Pangea Blog here to see the rest, and don't forget to leave a comment there and tell him what you think. Enjoy, and thank you!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diversify

So I have now had this widow's blog for just about six months. For those of you who know me, or have spoken to me about it, I am really enjoying it. I enjoy being able to write, being able to be honest, being able to share things with others in hopes that they can find some comfort here. I enjoy following what I believe is God's calling for me. And I have had the feeling for some time that I should diversify a little. I have more going on in my heart then just what life is like being a widow. This blog is holding me back in some ways that I don't think are still healthy. It narrows my audience, and it narrows my topics. I want to share more. At the same time I want to give the readers of this space the chance to continue to follow it for the reasons they started; to hear about hope in the midst of loss, to learn about Matt, to watch over the kids in some capacity, and help me along my grief journey.

I feel I have a sense of a plan, but it will start with this . . . I'm going to over the next month introduce some new blogspot blogs. One will be poetry, one will be short daily inspirations, one will be humor, one will be dealing strictly with my Christian walk, and one will be for my creative outlet (artsy stuff) -- they will all be deeply connected to my walk with Jesus, because there is simply no separating Him from any facet of my life. (I've linked to the one I've got a good start on already above). Each has it's own use to me; mainly a use in stretching my writing abilities, and my blogging consistency. Teaching me to use other avenues of my gift to see how I can help, share, and be creative.

I invite you to check them out, and see if any of them interests you. If one does please use the email subscriber in the top right corner of any of these blogs you like to sign up to receive an email when I post something new (and if you haven't done so for this blog, I would encourage you too!). As far as my Widow's Rant goes I've been working on a book of Matt's life from the time I met him until his death. The book is really just a gift I'm giving to myself, but there are stories in there I would like to share and so I imagine for the next few months that will be the main content of this blog. For those of you who know Matt you know that it should be a fun ride (and I encourage any of my readers to throw out stories to me in the comments - in which both Matt and I were a part of - that you would like to see me put into story format and share:).

My goal is to someday have a site where I can converge all these topics in one place that would be my own singular space, but for now I'm still learning and growing in this place. I'm having fun, and trying to follow where the Spirit is leading me. It's time for me to stretch out into other areas, and see what happens.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this journey. Thank you to everyone who is reading! If you are connecting with what I write here I continue to encourage you to share my work, because that is my ultimate goal in this whole thing. To use my writing to connect, encourage, and fellowship with others, and to glorify God within that.

I have also been asked recently to guest post on another writer's Christian blog. He is someone I have great respect for, and enjoy reading immensely. It's something I am very excited about, so please look for that link which should be coming in the next couple weeks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Struggles of Single Parenting

As I continue to heal from my loss of Matt I notice the more time that goes by the more the grief changes from sad thoughts to happy memories. There are so many areas I feel I'm growing, continuing forward, and moving through the hard part, but the one thing that continues unchanged is the struggles I face in a single parent home. I feel so inadequate. I cleaned my house for the first time since I moved this week (this confession disgusts me). And I'm still exhausted from this task three days later. I used to clean my house top to bottom each week, pick up everyday, prepare and clean up a meal, and do laundry as one fluid task. Now it's as if I have no time to get any of these things done the way I wish. The laundry gets started, and forgotten. Two days later my washed clothes now reek of mildew, and the stuff in the dryer is so wrinkled I have to start over. Dinner remains to be a point of frustration for me. Evelyn is such a picky eater, and I've never been a foodie - unless we're talking chocolate I'm sort of a take it or leave it kind of girl when it comes to food. Somehow my time and motivation was simultaneously cut in half when I lost Matt, and I suppose that makes sense. And yet, I refuse to just let this feeling of inadequacy in the way I now run a home be the new status quo.

All this to say, I don't have much inspiration for this part of my frustration at the moment. What I want is solid ideas on how to feel more in control. Meditations I how I can let go of the need to control, without living in a state of chaos. Advice on how to get a four year old to help, and not feel as though she is being left out, or that mom must always put work and house tasks before her. So I'm just throwing this out there to my readers. What works for you? What doesn't? What are your tricks?

I would love to hear any responses you'd be willing to give!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Seeing Matt Each Day

In the car yesterday Evelyn said something to me that she says quite often, "I wish I could just see daddy." It's heartbreaking, and up until that day I always fumbled with my answer. I told her I wanted to see him too. I told her that we will always have pictures and memories. I told her that he will always live on in her heart. And, at times, some of those things gave her some comfort, but it never felt as though I was helping her the way I desired.

The answer that I gave to her on this day came from a day I had last week. I was changing Isaac's diaper. There he was peaceful and serene, just laying in on his changing table. He was looking up at me, and me down at him. He wasn't smiling, he was just being. He blinked. And there was Matt. He blinked again; and again, I saw Matt! It was now me blinking, but they were blinks to hold back tears. Everything about Isaac's eyes were shining brightly, and I could see Matt alive again in that very moment. It was exhilarating.

So on this date when Evelyn told me that she wished she could see her dad I felt a little leap in my heart. I had an answer, and I was excited to share with her. I told her that she could see her daddy anytime that she wanted by simply looking at her brother. That both Isaac and her were each half of daddy. That in their own special ways we could see daddy in each of them.

I continued to tell her what it is about her that reminds me of her father. Her attributes are far more personality related. She repeats phrases over and over, a funny quirk her father definitely was known for (for those of you who know him the following might ring some bells 'M i k e J o n e s' 'Foove-a-lyn-duv-a-lyn' 'Everybody loves the Maggie-Mags' ... I could go on for hours, but I'll save some for another time).

Evelyn understood. She got it. She looked happy. She watched Isaac for the next ten minutes straight, wonderment on her face. It was nice to be able to give her some wisdom that actually brought her real peace. It was nice to see her smile, instead of frown, after a discussion about her father. It was a nice step forward.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Own Contribution: 'Dare to Share'

It is time for me to share something in this space. Something real. Something raw. Something that is on my heart, and has been for some time. Something that new widows face. Something that is hard. Apart from the words woven together on this screen, I have been quietly dealing with families; with mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. Apart from the faithful followers of my blog I have addressed this issue within my church walls; with my pastor, my elders, and my friends. I have bled this thing dry, and then stood up dusted myself off and continued on down the same path I was on. Why? Because I feel this is a provision God has blessed me with in the aftermath of Matt's death. More pointedly, it is one of the most cherished provisions God has provided.

In my last post when I was speaking of reprocessing events I came across something disturbing. I discovered that there were many things I kept 'secret' from Matt. Not because I didn't want to tell him, but because I think if I had it would have been a further place of hurt for me. Back then this seemed acceptable, it seemed right. It doesn't anymore. I can't place blame for this fact on either of us. I was anxious and had no self worth. Saying he was a poor communicator misses the mark by a long shot, but it will do. Overall, we weren't good in the arguing arena. If I shared these 'secrets', even the lies, they would have been brought back up in an unattractive way, at an inappropriate time. And the feelings they brought to the surface in both of us would have been shoved down inside.

It was in my therapist's office that I stumbled across this fact. She asked me what the top five worst things I had ever faced were, and as I began to tell her I became flushed. My whole body heated up. I felt like I had scarlet fever. My head became light. My stomach turned . . . I had never told anyone this before. See - there were others involved so I assumed in some fashion I guess I had shared it - because I had "shared" it with them. It was in that dizzying moment I became acutely aware that forgiveness from God is not to be mistaken as an alternative for human to human confession. Sitting there in that chair I opened a rusty, dark, and murky cage that sat in the deepest corner of my heart. I reached into that cage, took one of those ratty old stories, and I threw it across the room. As it spilled from me I could almost see it; the story that consumed me from within for years like a monster. It was now darting over the carpet, small as a mouse, looking for a hiding place. I had rid my heart of something dark. It had gone out, and although I knew that event happened, it's ability to control me was changing.

Let's be honest though, our therapist's offices are the easy way out, right? I fought going to therapy up until a couple weeks ago because, 'Therapy never does anything for me'. I now realize that I have yet to have a therapist that I've told everything too. I even have anxiety about them thinking I am 'less than' . . . sad, really.

I will not be sharing with you my dark and ugly story, because it doesn't define who I am. Because I am not healed from those wounds yet. Because that is not what God is calling me to do. If at some point He does calls me to share those dark moments in my past in order to help others then I will. But for now? I'm going to share who I shared this story with. His name is Brad. And he's my boyfriend (I feel a little '12 stepish' right now . . . Hi. My name is Stephanie. I am a widow. And I'm dating.). Our story will come later. Now is not the time. Now is simply the time for me to breath into the universe the one secret I was still holding from those kind enough to have continued traveling this grief journey with me by reading what God has written on my heart.

Since I made the decision to start dating there have been presumptions about my state of grief. Unsureness about my readiness. I've received questions about my motives. I've been tested on whether this can be a Biblical blessed relationship (I believe it can, and is). And not just me, but Brad as well. He has stood by me, and my two kids, through Hell on Earth. Loved me despite - for one of the first time in his life - his character and motives being questioned. None of these questions, tests, or presumptions were meant to hurt us -- for the most part it is for opposite reasons. We are loved by many, and those who love us are trying very hard to protect our hearts. We recognize this, respect this, and wouldn't ask for it to be any other way. It doesn't make it easier to decide, as a new widow, to let someone into your messy life. It doesn't make it easier, but as I said before despite the questions, comments, and concerns we are doing our best to travel this road with gentleness, thought, and care. We are being as careful as we can, while still trying to praise God in the face of this amazing relationship He has given us.

So there it is. Honestly, I have fear over this post. I fear your judgment. I fear inflicting pain on those who love Matt. I fear people thinking that this somehow takes away from my love of Matt (it doesn't). I fear the 'what if' statements. I fear the assumptions that I can not grieve while in a new relationship (but I can and I am). I fear all these things, but at the same time, I also want to honor a God who has blessed me beyond belief. I want to honor Him by sharing with the world just one more amazing gift He has given me during this long and very difficult year. So thank you . . . thank you for letting me share something with you.

A Dare To Share

I’m starting on a new journey, and to be honest I am not sure I will be taking you all along with me. But right now, in this moment, I’m excited. God continues to renew me in these dark days. He continues to take things long worn upon my soul like tight and uncomfortable clothing and gives me the strength to shed the layers one by one. I am beginning to make connections where there weren’t connections before. I am beginning to let go of anxiety. I am beginning to understand my anxiety. I am beginning to replace it with comfort only Christ can give.

This journey involves looking back on traumas I have experienced in my life. Including those things I chose to inflict on myself; those things that continue to be the core of the unbearable anxiety which surrounds my present and daily life. This anxiety, or at times post traumatic stress, pulls me from a fairly sane (but no doubt scorn) woman, and turns me into a pile of crap at the slightest hint of an unpleasant memory. So the idea is to reprocess these events, including the trauma of Matt’s death, and learn to identify them internally for what they really are – my past.

Armed with the vision of Jesus at my side, today was Day One of reprocessing. It was hard, draining, and truly . . . it sucked. Well, it sucked in the most freeing and healing way one could imagine. I never would have guessed this would be the way to healing. A re-treading of shark infested waters, in order to find the peace Jesus always wanted me to have.

I realized after the fact that one of the hardest parts for me along this rugged road will be admission to the fact that I have done what I have done. And that does not affect the kind of person I am, the love I deserve, or the way others should view me. This sounds immature. I suppose because it’s easy for me to pin point what I ‘need’ to do, but doing it has been an ongoing struggle for years. For now, that struggle is still very much present within me. I hold my past, at least the terrible stuff, so tightly to my present I cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.

The truth is over the last two years of my life I am slowly learning two very important things:

1) I am not alone. Some of my traumatic events are worse than yours, but some are not. Some of my choices were more devastating than yours; again, some were not. In this very moment we are all suffering in some way, in some capacity. We all feel inadequate, unworthy, and unattractive in a certain life area. We are not alone.

2) Secrets are lies. I talked awhile ago about my ‘lie’. About how my ‘lie’ is that I’m not worthy of love. Would my life have looked different if I had told my father in high school that I felt unlovable? I imagine it probably would have knowing how kind my father is, and how gently he holds my heart. If we don’t allow those who love us to invade our lies for the craziness that they are . . . they fester. Fester like an infected wound. The longer the secret is there the harder it is to evict it from your soul.

I realize that not everyone needs what I need. Some people are happy with their pasts. Some people are free from traumatic events. Some people are confident in their choices, their path, and their inner rantings. In which case I suppose this isn’t for you. For the rest of you – the ones that were brought to a thought, a moment, or an event – I dare you to share that. Pick a person you trust. Pick a person of faith. Pick a person who mirrors the image of Jesus. A person who understands what grace looks like. And then? Let it go. Let go of the thing that haunts you. Of the lie you tell yourself. Of that event that embarrasses you. A moment of humiliation. Go ahead and tell the story of the person who tore your soul to shreds.

When you are done take a deep breath. Thank God for freedom, for grace, and for the new creation within us. Remember that Jesus taught us about Kingdom living here and now . . . in this life . . . on this Earth. Reach for it, because He wants you to.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Slight Shift

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

When I hear the verse above there is a deep rooted sense within me, one I was not even aware of until today. That sense says to me, 'Instruction'. My mind categorizes this verse as a 'go-to' of sorts on how to discern spirits of this world. I heard a magnificent sermon by Rob Bell today that put this verse in a whole new light, and I feel the Holy Spirit stirring inside me. Since Matt's death there has been a mustard seed effect taking place inside my heart. Long since seeded roots of my early faith continue to hold tightly, but branches of understanding are growing at immense rates. A desire to learn more, a need to engage in conversation, and a bending to allow Spirit movement within my life, mind, and heart.

His sermon is an awesome trip. He empowers us to feel the weight of 1 John 2:20 in relation to 1 John 4:1. I have come up against an internal uncertainty of my ability to discern for months now. Which seems obvious, right? I am in a fragile state of mind. I am in a physical state of exhaustion. I have been through trauma. I am beginning a process of healing which is bringing forth trauma I hadn't allowed in prior to Matt's death. I am, if you will, vulnerable.

. . . or am I?

John, a pastor in the early church and a friend of Christ, assures me I am not. I am anointed with the Holy Spirit, I am from God, and I have overcome the spirits that need to be overcome. He tells me I can do this discernment thing. So was John giving me a protocol for testing the spirits? Is this verse a condensed and inspired 'Discernment For Dummies' workbook? Or is he telling the early church - telling me - we have the ability to do this thing. Is it possible this wasn't an instruction, but meant to be an encouragement? (Or maybe it was both or neither?) What amazing freedom here . . . I feel transformation . . . I feel growth.

This internal battle that rages within me is between these two contenders; the confidence I have in my gift of discernment, and the fear of failing in testing the spirits. But doesn't love cast out all fear? If fear of failure is the result within the context of a verse it feels contradictory to me in some way. It feels like maybe I'm looking at things in the wrong light. This slight shift in thought fills me with joy and confidence in Christ once more. With the choices of joy and confidence, or the fear of failure . . . I think I know which of these Jesus would have me choose.

Rob starts his sermon with a quote along the lines of this, "Sometimes when we assign doctrinal meanings to scripture they can lose the power of what they affirm, of what they embrace, [of what they are trying to transform]. But it is this [power] that can bring them to life in new ways and in new dimensions."

Rob ends with some thoughts along these lines, "You may at times hear something that is disturbing, disrupting, frightening, disorientating. You may find yourself confused, perplexed, and frustrated. And it may be true. It may be the Spirit of God shaking you. Maybe because you are in a rut and God wants to break you in order to open you up to all sorts of new understandings and perspectives. But because you are clinging so tightly to the views you have always had a sort of shaking is needed. When you are discerning you may want to dismiss something because it is disturbing. Part of the process is knowing when that is because it is not from God, or when it is the Spirit of God moving in mysterious ways."

These things I speak of are personal issues I struggle with. These are things I cling to. This is part of my growth journey. There is excitement in that, hope there, and now a renewed sense of confidence in my testing of the spirits.

This post is doesn't contain much of what the message did, it is simply what it stirred in me . . . if you would like to see what it stirs in you it can be found here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Freedom Prayer

Jesus it's time, and I need you near.

It's time to sling stones at this freedom I fear.

Forgiven I've lived, forgiven I've been.

But the weight of my life still haunts where I am.

So I'm going forth, with your strength I will fight.

To know that my battle is won with Christ's light.

My past's ugly, it's painful, and I wish to forget.

But instead it pummels me with unending fists.

To your will I am bending, I am begging to break.

Please help me find healing in a whole world of fake.

Your gift I don't grasp - at least not yet in this place.

With faith I step forward in search of . . . true grace.