Sunday, March 1, 2015

Three Years


Three years. That sounds like a very long time. It feels it too. But I’m not entirely sure what I should feel.

There is this sort of ache—a little numb, a little guilt. Numb because oddly, I still can’t believe the horror of those last days. The agony of the awful suffering—death’s devouring of life. And guilt because I can often talk about “Chris dying” without a tear. It’s a fact. Somehow, it is not my heart’s ache any longer.

Have I become so busy that I’ve forgotten? Or have I played and replayed the grief that it has become old and tired and worn-out? Maybe the joy of a new marriage trumps the sorrow of a lost one? If so, what does this mean about how I loved him?

And then I allow myself to study his face in a picture. And I’m overcome.

In an instant, I am back. I am at his bedside, staring in disbelief at his skin-wrapped skeleton. Waiting—praying for him to die. Helplessly “helping” as he vomits one more time and his body quivers from the pain of it all. I am giving pain meds and knitting the torment away. And then I am looking at my aunt’s gold watch at the time of death.

That is the thing about these anniversaries. You recall the heartbreak of the day. There is no space in my thoughts today for the comfort of joyful memories. I am all-consumed with the pain it was to watch my life partner, my beloved, cross the river of death—and knowing he would go without me.

Natural death is so unnatural. It feels so very wrong. The separation is nearly too much to bear. To watch the breath and soul go out of my husband pierced my heart in a way that I cannot describe.

This day brings some of the pain back. And it wants to swirl around me and come up over my head and drown me—but it cannot. Because this is not the end.

I have HOPE that transcends this broken-down world. My God is the Lover of my soul. My salvation and my future.

So I run! Run this race with endurance. I look expectantly for God to order and provide. And He so faithfully does.

Chris finished his race—seemingly too early (but not). And I was allowed the privilege of watching a godly man die. I pray I will finish well, as he did.

Thank you, my dear man. Your legacy lives. Thank you for living and dying well. I can’t wait to see you again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

First Anniversary

One year.

New marriage. New family. New home. New plans. New future.

Same God.

This last year has been both the most difficult in my life, as well as the most overwhelmingly blessed. It has been one of incredible sacrifice and incredible gifts.

We skipped the “honeymoon stage”—not in our hearts, but in our everyday life. Our time alone, I suppose, will come—not in the sweetness of early marriage months—but eventually. In the meantime, we work beside each other in the trenches of big family life. And once in a while we look at the person next to us and think, “Who is this?” How do I re-learn how to love and live with a brand new husband when it feels I can’t get a moment alone with him?

But God’s grace has gushed over us. Our scant time alone is filled to the brim. And though it never feels enough, it is always full. Full of sweetness and sometimes of full of sifting through hurt feelings or shocking differences we find in each other. But always full of love.

When it's hardand marriage is the hardest work I’ve done in my life—I tell myself that it’s worth every moment. Because this marriage matters. It matters for eternity. It matters for our kids. It matters for missions.

And so, on this Winter Solstice—our first wedding anniversary—I reflect on the beauty of the gift of marriage. And marvel that I have been given it again! I remember that it is not how I feel in any given moment. It is about resolve. Resolve to glorify God. Resolve to love. Resolve to serve. Resolve to forget myself.

And the joy—the romance—comes then! I am filled up with gratitude to my God for giving me this man. And for working in us both to make us more like Him THROUGH this marriage.


Happy 1st Anniversary, My Love. Thank you for loving me and making a new life and a new family and a new future with me. Much, much love.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hope for the Hopeless



After Chris' death, I prayed that the Lord would graciously redeem all that pain—that He would not only turn ashes into beauty in my life and in Erika's, but that He would provide me with opportunities to comfort others with the comfort I have received.  I couldn't imagine how that might look. But I knew that my heart was more tender to human suffering than it had been before. And I understood greater depths of the comforts of my loving God—the special nearness of the Father to His aching children.

Last week, Scotty and I returned from a life-changing trip. I believe God answered my prayers. He told me what He has for me—how He plans to redeem the past pain. We spent two weeks traveling throughout Lebanon. My dear husband has lived and served in the Middle East for over 20 years, but now we needed to find out what God might have for us together.  How might He use us both?

Almost immediately upon our arrival, I fell in love with the people. There is a warmth and affection in communication and hospitality that is very unlike American culture. Community is prized far above individuality. But I also saw how this honor-based society often gives way to pride and hate and abuse and murder. And myriads of devastated human beings are left in the wake. 

Hatred is everywhere. And hopelessness nearly chokes them. They are oppressed at every turn. Hunted down or caught in the cross-fire of hatred directed at another. Or they boil inside with their own hate—and they strike. Fear and anger permeates the society and the soul.

Compassion! Where is compassion? Who will show them the love of Jesus? Who will tell them of the hope that transcends this awful world? Who will weep with them when their fellow-refugee neighbor refuses to share water and their slumlord shamelessly exploits their vulnerability and need? Who will sit beside the woman who has been raped and drugged and punched by the man who shares her bed—and she finds no one in her society who takes up her case for her?

There is a stirring in our hearts to be the hope-bringers.  Pray with us! The task seems full of impossibilities, but we feel confident in the Lord's call. And "He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it." (I Thes. 5:24) 

We read this while in the city of Byblos, Lebanon (from Streams in the Desert, June 23):

"So he said, 'Come.' Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' " (Matt 14:29-30) 

Peter had a little faith in the midst of his doubts, says Bunyan; and so with crying and coming he was brought to Christ. 

But here you see that sight was a hindrance; the waves were none of his business when once he had set out; all Peter had any concern with, was the pathway of light that came gleaming across the darkness from where Christ stood. If it was tenfold Egypt beyond that, Peter had no call to look and see. 

When the Lord shall call to you over the waters, “Come,” step gladly forth. Look not for a moment away from Him.

Not by measuring the waves can you prevail; not by gauging the wind will you grow strong; to scan the danger may be to fall before it; to pause at the difficulties, is to have them break above your head. Lift up your eyes unto the hills, and go forward—there is no other way. 

Dost thou fear to launch away?
Faith lets go to swim!
Never will He let thee go;
’Tis by trusting thou shalt know
Fellowship with Him.

We pray for faith to look not at the waves but at Christ. 

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)