Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Letter at Two Years


My dear Chris,

How I miss you!

On this day two years ago, I held your hand for the last time. I kissed your smooth forehead. I looked into your pained eyes—trying to imagine with you the paradise for which you were departing in just mere moments. I said "goodbye." I watched your chest rise for the final time.

And then I stared at your emaciated, soulless body—so overjoyed for you to be finally delivered from the horrors of the valley of death. I tried to envision the bliss that surely tasted sweeter than my earthly mind could fathom. You were at last with the Lover of your soul.

And then I collapsed. My dearest friend was gone from me. My daughter’s daddy was out of her life forever. Just after you died, I would frequently dream that you came back for just one day. And it felt so good to be in your company and your arms again. I had so much to tell you. And then I would wake with that awful, sinking feeling—the realization of my alone-ness. And one time, I picked up my phone to call you because I just had to ask you something...and then remembered that no one would pick up. It was as if I lost my arm or leg. I didn't know how to live or make decisions without you for a while.

But, I learned. Eventually. The same Jesus that was with you in heaven was also with me. And so I could keep living. Putting one foot in front of the other. I could love and laugh with our girl. And joy began to return—sometimes in ounces, sometimes in bucketfuls.

Chris, you taught me so very much. You taught me patience and fortitude and grace. You were called to many years of pain and sleepless nights and scary doctor visits and awful treatments and news that went from bad to worse. And shattered hopes and dreams. And too-early goodbyes. And one of the most drawn-out deaths possible. You were stripped of every last shred of modesty but never lost your dignity or grace. Your prayer to "die in the saddle" (of ministry) was answered. Your death was the most important lesson in all of my life.

Eternal perspective came to me from that valley. But sometimes it slips away a bit. I forget the lessons I learned. I forget what you taught me—the  lessons you learned from your Savior and Friend. I start worrying about things. I snap and say unkind words. I lose my temper. I start to think that this life is all there is and that I have to make all my dreams come true here. (You know me and all my weak spots.)

And so, I'm thankful for this anniversary. A day to remember those lessons. And to remember you, my sweet man, and all the ways you reflected your Lord. A day to look back so that I may walk forward with purpose and grace.

I've had many gifts. The gift of a decade with you—living and growing with you, loving and being loved by you. The gift of parenting with you. And your death—bitter as it was—was also a gift. The lessons learned could not have been learned otherwise. (And your dying ministry reached far beyond your wife. You taught thousands how to suffer well.)

And now, I am quite confident you know about my newest gift. Erika and I are now two of eight! The Lord has answered your prayer and has placed the solitary in a family (Psalm 68:6)—and quite a large one at that! I have a godly and kind husband, and Erika has a father and five siblings. Our new family members have their own dear one in heaven—where you are. And so we often wonder if you and Bev know our story and if you have sweeter fellowship because of it? And I also wonder if you do most of the talking?


Guess what? God gave me another talkative husband! There are a few other ways in which you are similar, but more that you are not. The important things are there, though. Scotty loves the Lord, he loves me, and he loves his kids—all six of them. You'd like him a lot. Like you, he's passionate and excitable. It's one of the first things I liked about him.

We don't know where the Lord will take us, but we pray for hearts that are willing to be poured out always and for hands that hold our plans and hopes loosely. Our prayer is much like the prayers you and I prayed together.

How different, though, is this plan from the dreams we dreamed! But I wouldn't change one thing. And I am absolutely certain that you agree. Our God is a loving Sovereign, isn't He? How thoroughly you know this now! His purposes are grand and good. And you see and understand them now. I still walk by faith.

Thank you for living life with me while you were here. I will see you soon, my dear man. Much love.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Life and Love


Life in Washington is new and different and wonderful and challenging. I laugh and cry. I cook (a lot) and drink coffee (a lot). I pray more.

Changes! Marital status, house, climate, family size and members, grocery bill, free time, church, friends and family, occupation, sleeping schedule... I remember learning about the stress scale in nursing school. I'm pretty convinced my score would pretty high if I calculated it. But I won't.

Because I know the ONE who has planned all this. The One who holds my hand and fills my heart. I know He loves me. And I know that what He has called me to do, I can do well. And those He has called me to love, I can love fully.

All this transition is not without pain. All eight of us, I think, could tell our own story of the pain of this change. But I think each of us could also speak about some joy or some gift that has come as well.


I will tell only my story here (and maybe a bit of Erika's since I've told hers all along, and she is too young to care, I think, if her mother tells it)—and leave the others to tell theirs.

Remarriage after the death of a spouse is a beautiful thing. It is redemption out of pain and devastation. Here's the part you don't always hear, though: it is also one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It has brought more pain and grief than I have known in many months. It has reminded me of Chris and all that he was to me. And it has closed completely the "Chris and Emily" chapter of my life. The life I thought I'd have is most clearly now never-to-be.

Given my cross-country move, I find also that there is no one around me that knew and loved Chris. No one says (or even can say), "Remember the way Chris used to juggle WHILE playing the harmonica?" Or "I was thinking of the heart Chris had for people. I sure miss him." I tell stories about him to his little girl, but she recalls so little that we can never swap stories. There is a comfort in co-remembering, co-missing. So this is a lonely sort of grief.

That grief nearly breaks me in two at some moments. And then I look at my best friend beside me. My husband! He is my gift. My comfort. He too knows the pain and loss that at times grips me and tears me apart. So I lean into him, and he leans into me.


I've learned too, that being married before means not that I know how to live with a man—it means I know how to live with ONE man. This guy with whom I've agreed to share a life is awkwardly foreign to me at times—as I am to him. And when we relax and slip into "the way we did things before," disaster erupts! Sometimes we laugh about it, and sometimes we cry.

We speak more of grace and love than we ever have before: God's great grace and love shown to us—and our deep need to be loved graciously by the other. And then to let that love and grace spill out all over these six kids. 
 

If you pray anything for us, will you pray this: that we would learn more fully what true love is? That we would be known by our love!

So we find that life is far from easy, but it is sweetly blessed. And it holds joy and gifts that would never have been possible without all this pain and loss.

How is it that I, one who has never birthed a child, now find myself surrounded by 6 of them? Infertility was a bitter pill to swallow—but it was medicine all the same. God used it to cure my heart of pride and self-sufficiency and then brought to me my precious gift, my Erika Grace. Then widowhood! The very picture of loneliness and neediness! Yet through it, I have been given another husband and his five beautiful children. I find myself humbled to stand in for their dear mother.  


 Only God could have done this.

And my extremely extroverted and social daughter now has a big family—one for which she was most obviously born! She has playmates nearly every moment (and her introverted mother gets a bit of a break from the intense socialization)!

Erika was born with some pretty remarkable qualities for the life she was to have. She is flexible and loves change. She thrives on the new and the unknown and the unexpected. She's always up for an adventure and for meeting new people and going new places. I wish I had a fraction of her adventurous nature! How easy she makes all of this. If she had a sensitive or inflexible temperament, the turmoil that change would bring for her would be rather hard for her mom to watch.


She does miss her Nana and Papa and Grandpa and cousins and aunts and uncles at home, though. And she talks often of her beloved Gramma Judy (Chris' mom), who died suddenly on January 4th. Her loss felt acute to us as we were moving and leaving our life in Minnesota. It seemed somehow to widen the chasm. We miss her greatly.


So we have sadness and joy, loss and gain, goodbyes and hellos. We step forward, with resolve to see the gifts in life—not to dismiss or ignore the pain—to feel it all. But sometimes when things get hard, these human minds forget to soak in the joys and give attention to what's good and whole and beautiful.

My heart overflows with gratitude for the life, the love, the people I've been given—past and present.

Happy Valentine's Day! May we all find ways to love our big people and our little people better.

(All photos were taken at our wedding by Emily Steffen)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Life

Happy New Year to you all!

Today I embark on a journey across the country with my groom. The man of my prayers and of my dreams. I start the year with him--moving into a new life and a new home. I am absolutely filled up with gratitude and joy!



Just eleven days ago, we spoke life-changing vows to each other. And how lovely it all was! We feel so happy and so blessed. Thank you for your prayers and your love and your encouragement.

More soon!

Photography by my dear friend, Emily Steffen. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Love Story

Several weeks ago, I promised to tell you my story. Forgive the long delay! Life has been quite busy!

So, here I finally am. Where do I start?

When Chris was dying, he talked with me at length about getting married again. He said, "you do better married," and he wanted a father for his sweet girl. So, he told me things like, "Don't wear your wedding ring on your left hand very long." He prayed that the Lord would bring Erika and me a godly man who would love and care for us as he did. And he told all of our loved ones who visited that they should encourage me to get married again soon.

This all perhaps sounds odd to some of you. You may say, "I could never imagine getting married if I lost my spouse." Things look very different, though, when you are a parent with a young child and when you treasure the sweetness of marriage and companionship. I used to feel a bit sad about there being "no marriage in heaven." But what a beautiful truth that is to me now! I am free and blessed to marry again! And Chris wanted it for me. What a gift he gave me--to release me to another.

And so from the beginning of my widowhood, I began praying for a husband. I prayed these things: that he loved the Lord and was in ministry for Him; that he had suffered some loss, in order that he might be able to understand my daughter's and mine (I hoped for a widower, but I did not specifically pray for that); and that he had a daughter, so that he might have a heart for mine.

I admit--I kept my eyes open for this kind of man. I did not see him around. Several people suggested "going online." I hesitated but did think about it for a while. Eventually (last December), I decided to make a profile on Sovereign Grace Singles.

In January, I began corresponding with a widower. We started writing about our losses--something both of us needed and wanted to do. We talked about the nearness of our God and all of His comforts. It was sweet fellowship, and we found ourselves writing volumes to each other each day. There was so much to say, and we felt we never really got to say it all. So, we decided to talk on the phone a few weeks after we began writing.

I think my sister saw the writing on the wall. She warned me: don't fall for this guy. He was 15 years older than I, a missionary (to the Middle East, but currently living in Washington state), and a father of 5 children. "A lot." Alot of years, a lot of ministry, a lot of kids.

The phone call was four hours long. Immediately I loved the smoothness of his voice. I thought he was articulate and thoughtful, and I enjoyed talking with him--immensely. I saw the heart he had for the hurt his children were suffering. I saw his clinging to his Lord through the storm. We talked about our beloved lost spouses--Chris and Bev.

We continued writing and also started talking a lot. And then I made the first move. I told him (in an email!) that I would like to pray about being "more than just friends." It became clear to me that he possessed the qualities for which I had prayed. He agreed to pray about. He called me "Ruth"--who made the first move on her Boaz.

It was a quiet, rather secret relationship. My family and pastor and a few close friends knew about Scotty, but that was all. We felt we needed to discover--without a lot of scrutiny or judgment--what the Lord might have for us together. Remarriage evokes strong feelings in people at times--especially when those people knew and loved our late spouses. It also seems that when children are involved, well-meaning people want to be sure we are not neglecting their needs and feelings. Additionally, Scotty's children are older, and we wished to spare them questions and attention about this relationship. We wanted to allow them time and space to process all of this and to make known their thoughts and feelings.

In June, we met for the first time in person. I flew to the west coast, and we spent 3 days together. I briefly met his children and parents, as well. In July, Scotty came to Minnesota and spent 3 days here. He met my family, and we had some fun dates. Then in August, Erika and I spent a week with Scotty and his kids. These trips went quite well and served to progress our relationship.

On September 26th, Scotty flew to Minnesota again. He gave me a ring that time. It was one of the very best days of my life.

That was a sober, yet very joyful time we spent together. We made plans and promises for this "part 2" of our lives. We thanked God for giving us the gift of companionship again--and another parent for our kids.

And, now we are just one month from our wedding day. We will marry on the winter solstice--December 21st--and we look forward with hope and expectancy that it will mark the beginning of increasing light each day for us all.

Erika and I will be moving to Vancouver, Washington. We grieve deeply the loss of family, friends, church, school, job. It is truly a bittersweet thing. But more sweet than bitter! I am overjoyed to live and work beside a good man again. I am thrilled for my daughter to have the love of a father again. And I am privileged and deeply grateful to love and to serve the five young people that I will soon call my family.

Abby (19), Matt (16), Zacky (14), Yusef (9), and Luke (7) are lovely and tender and kind. And they showcase their Mama's loving and sacrificial input into their lives in a beautiful way. To follow after her is indeed a humbling thing.


Scotty and I do not know what the Lord has for ministry for us in the future. Our general direction and hope is to continue to pursue missions. We pray the Lord would make it very clear to us when we should go overseas--and what ministry will look like for us together. For now, we feel we need to spend time combining our new family and to minister to Arabs here in the United States.

We would love your prayers for us, as we undertake the enormous task of learning to love and serve each other and combine these 2 families into one. Two families who have suffered huge losses. We need much grace! We move forward but will never forget. Thank you! Much love!


Bev Wharton
 
 Chris Drager





Friday, October 18, 2013

Bittersweet


I wonder how many people bite their lip when they read my happy news on here. Oh, I know many read it with great joy. But I began writing publicly to discuss pain and how much it hurts and how Jesus heals. So I wonder if I am alienating hurting people now? And how many of you come here to read about Chris—one whom you loved very much? And hearing about my new man hurts you a little. You realize that he really is gone. And Emily isn’t “Chris’ wife” anymore. Maybe I was a connection to Chris somehow, and now you wonder if that connection is gone.

It seems to me that quite often, people surrounding a widow—or widower—are a little surprised to see them “moving on.” (Though I really prefer the phrase “moving forward.”  I will never be over Chris—what do I need to get over, after all?) And I’m very aware of how hearing my news of an engagement this time is quite different than when you heard it the first time—when I was 20 and dreaming of growing old with Chris. You all dreamed it for me too. And I love you for it.
And then, you all rallied around me when my dream was dashed. You let me sit in the chair in my bedroom for countless hours—first from sheer caregiver exhaustion and then from intense grief. You cared for my sweet, confused daughter because I could not. You texted me and usually received no response. You delivered flowers and yarn and chili chocolate torte to me. You sent me books and cards and emails. You prayed. You made me food—and I didn’t even care if it was good or not. I cared about very little. And I remember very little.
But you cared about me. And because you cared about me, you put your grief for Chris aside to help me through my own. Because my loss trumped yours. It was my life that was in ruins. It was my daughter that had no father. A lot of life left but no partner with whom to live it. And I fully entered into grief. It washed over me and completely consumed me. I did nothing but was completely exhausted. And those of you who are well-versed in grief told me, “Grief is hard work. You are doing something.”
And then healing started! The Great Healer—through this hard work of grief—started to bind up my wounds.
And now, maybe you feel the weight of his loss. You see that I’m ok, so it’s finally safe for you to be sad about Chris. And seeing me smiling with a man who is not Chris feels jarring and maybe even shocking. It’s interrupting your postponed grief and feels abrupt. Sometimes I feel a little sad that there is not the same joyful freedom in talking about Scotty—and all the things I love about him—as there was when I fell in love with Chris. No one has made me to feel that I cannot have that freedom. It’s just that I am conscious that this all must feel so bittersweet to some of you. It appears to be “Plan B.”
But it’s God’s “Plan A”, and that knowledge brings me great peace.
And so, I just wanted to acknowledge your pain in all this. And I wanted to thank you for your support through your pain.
(Oh, and I know that I promised more details…I have not forgotten. They are coming soon!)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Big News!

Father of the fatherless and defender of widows is God in His holy habitation. He sets the solitary in families… (Psalm 68:5-6)
These verses have been my frequent meditation, prayer, and praise these last 18 months. And now I stand amazed at what God has done. He has turned mourning into rejoicing. Ashes into beauty.
An amazing man, Scotty—with whom I have been in contact these last several months—has asked me to be his wife. He has asked for Erika and me to become his family. And I said “yes”! An intimate, family wedding at Christmastime is planned.  

I love him deeply, and we both feel God has called us to each other and to continue our journeys together. We both lost the loves of our lives last year and stand amazed at the capacity to love again and love fully.
We have promised to love and sacrifice for each other—and for each others’ children—for as long as we have left on earth. And how full of gratitude and excitement and peace I am!

Rejoice with me! (More to come…) And I thank you, my friends, for being in my life, reading my words, praying and caring for my daughter and me. Much love. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fall is here-- and change with it!

Life has become significantly busier! Change seems to be coming all at once. I work more, socialize less, drive more, write less... (If you have called, texted, emailed me lately and received no response, it's not personal! Please forgive me. I need to get the hang of all of this.)

Although I miss slow mornings--sometimes in our pjs--all this change does feel right. And exciting. And it feels truly that my "Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8).

Erika could not be happier with this preschool gig. She wonders why she can't go every day. She tells me about the other kids and her teacher and all the songs they sing and games they play and projects they do. Bless you, preschool teachers. I could never captivate kids the way you do--not to mention practice patience AND actually impart knowledge!

Work--though challenging and exhausting in this steep learning curve--is the perfect fit for me. Days fly by, and I find myself looking forward to the next day. And at the same time, looking forward to the weekend.

In other news, These chillier temps awaken the knitting monster in me. I am obsessed. I have spent a fair amount of that earned money at my local yarn shop and actually have a list on a post-it note of the projects waiting to be knit. The yarn is in your possession, so don't buy more, Emily. Finish these. Then, by all means, buy more! Knitting retreat coming up in October...

That's the news from these parts!