Our Story: A Preface

You are brave. Really. Because I know our story is uncomfortable. It is everyone’s nightmare and awakens all kinds of fears that lurk in your mind. I understand because I used to be afraid of people like me and their stories. So, I don’t take your willingness to venture close for granted. From the outside looking in, our story is unspeakably tragic.

And it is. I will miss John every day of my life and so will our children.

But, our life is different than you think. Actually, I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t actually living it every day. There is more grace, more love, more help, more comfort, more peace, more hope, more laughter, more joy here in this broken family than you can imagine. More than I ever could have imagined, had you told me this would happen.

Simply put: God is with me. God is with us.

It doesn’t mean I don’t cry. It doesn’t mean I don’t long for John. It doesn’t mean I don’t grieve all that my children have lost and how our loss will continue to unfold over time….holidays, graduations, first jobs, marriages, grandchildren. It doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed by the endless things I have to do that I don’t know how to do. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wrestle with my purpose and future without him. John was an incredible husband and father. The list of the ways we loved and appreciated and treasured him is endless.  I am still in love with him.

Yet, God is with me in this tragic place. With me in ways that are tender and soothing and wise and empowering and beautiful and constant. It is the only part of this new life that I wouldn’t trade.

And, the truth is that I know John would say the same thing. He is fully experiencing our Heavenly Father. What he knows in reality is what I only know in my heart and mind and soul.  For now, I can only imagine what it will be like to be in the presence of my God who has entered into this pain with me and has never left my side.

He is simply amazing company for this journey in death’s shadow.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:

I have learned a few things from this verse during two years in this valley.

  • Reality Check 1: It is a walk. My first instinct was to run, but it isn’t an option. The shadow death casts is long. It dims my vision of life and of truth. Trying to run through it is dangerous. So it is best that I accept it is going to take time and that I may not be seeing life clearly.
  • Reality Check 2:  There are no false promises about this valley, God doesn’t zap us out of this scary place. We are in it, but it is meant to be traveled through, not to become a permanent camp.
  • Good news: We are not alone. We are promised Only The Best Company for this dark valley. His presence with us is real.
  • Better news: He is prepared for this walk.  He will comfort us, protect us, and guide us through it.
  • Best news: It is only a shadow!  Shadows aren’t what they appear. Death isn’t what it appears. I am only in death’s shadow because Jesus took on death for me. For John. For you. Without His death on the cross for us, we would be completely helpless and hopeless when we face our own death or the death of the people we love. He is the One who felt the full weight of death so that we don’t have to. I don’t worry or wonder about where John is.  I am confident and at peace that he is with His Heavenly Father.

And on March 8, 2012, when we entered the valley of the shadow of death, the Christian beliefs we’ve held were given the ultimate challenge.

And God met us in this valley.

Actually, He had been making preparations long before that day. For John, Jesus was John’s rescue plan because His death gave John eternal life, and He welcomed John home. For me and for our four kids, He made it clear to me that He was with us and wouldn’t leave. And, He had a whole team of people whose hearts He moved to pray and hands He stirred to come and help. Many of you have been part of that team. We will always love you.

And, so I will share our story because God has been everything I hoped He would be in the midst of my broken heart and life. He has held me together. I want your heart and faith to be encouraged too because truly, “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39  

God’s love for us makes us brave. And sometimes, His love makes us braver than we ever thought we’d need to be…

A Journey of 2 1/2 Years

Today it has been two and a half years since I ate breakfast with John and our kids, kissed him at the door, and watched him walk to his car: shoulders full of briefcase, lunch, dry cleaning, and gym bag. Such an ordinary day. Little did we know we were saying goodbye.

In the early days following March 8, 2012, I most frequently described his death as a lightning strike on a clear, blue day. Coming out of nowhere, taking John and torching life as we knew it for me and our four children. Our future with him turned to ashes. When I meet new people, they still visibly respond when I cautiously break the news that my husband died while on a run. I am living everyone’s nightmare. I still cringe that it is real.

There was no way to forget it this summer.

In late July our grave marker was put in place. During that same week I turned 46 and our 25th anniversary arrived with no husband. Three weeks later our second went off to college as a freshman, and our first returned to college as a junior. Our house occupancy dwindled to three. And within that same week, our boy turned 13, and the next day was John’s 47th birthday.

Life isn’t getting easier. We will never be “over” or “beyond” John’s death. This suffering is real, but I can honestly say that the Lord is teaching us how to live with it: how to hold hands with joy and sorrow. And He is also doing something miraculous…

Because in the midst of those hard milestones this summer, I also saw GREEN! God is causing green sprouts to beat the odds and emerge from our scorched soil. This burned down forest that I used to call our family’s life is alive. God is working a miracle, and it is beautiful. The kind only He can do. He is wooing us with the beauty and promise of life as it unfolds. Telling my heart that there are people and places and purposes in our future. Joy is rising. Love is still here, and it is growing.

And, my smiles come faster. And my silliness at home is becoming more frequent. And I don’t feel as conspicuous anymore in this awkward widow identity. God is coaxing me forward just like those green sprouts through blackened earth.

Surely the future will bring more reminders of what has been lost, but I do know what I see today. Green is growing. More green is coming. Life can burst forth from scorched earth. There is no holding it back. And, God loves those who mourn their losses. He will love you like He is loving us.

Comforting. Providing. Trading our ashes for a crown of beauty. Giving us the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. We get to be for the display of His splendor! (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34-35)

So He holds my hand and I look for green…I hope you see green in your blackened earth too.

fire growth