We Go Nowhere By Accident

Of all the things in life to procrastinate, designing your grave marker is at the top of the list. And so I did. For almost two years. There was a simple marker at John’s grave with his name, but it was temporary. I was supposed to design a permanent one for us in the first few months after he died.  But, I didn’t.

There were so many reasons to avoid it. It was so final. So permanent. So official. My heart just wasn’t ready.

Also, the possibilities of how to design it were endless. The options overwhelmed me.  What if I didn’t like it once it was set in place?  What if the font style looked awkward? What if I forgot to put something on it that was really important?

And, I wasn’t just designing it for John. It is my gravestone too. It is a lonely job to plan your gravestone by yourself. Very sobering when you have four children who are still dependent on you, their only remaining parent.

Last January came and I couldn’t avoid it anymore.  The second anniversary of John’s death was approaching, and I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t completed it. I was sure his parents were very ready for a more substantial marker, but they had been gracious enough not to bring it up. I was ready to face it.

There seemed to be only one way to design it: I had to look at examples. Walking around the cemetery and looking at other markers seemed to be the only way to get inspiration and know what I liked.

So, one day last January I went to walk and look and design.

Cemeteries are solitary places. If you come alone, you go directly to the marker you’re visiting and then you leave. You don’t typically take a stroll. I knew I was embarking on something unusual.  Thankfully, it was a quiet day with very few people around.

I started in the back section and began to work my way forward. After a while, I passed a young woman walking in the opposite direction; I nodded my head in greeting. Graveyard etiquette means you give one another a wide margin of privacy.

I kept walking and reading stones for over an hour, awkwardly taking photos on my cell phone whenever I saw something I liked.  Then, I sat down on the bench near John’s grave to read my Bible and try to decide which verses to include on the grave marker.

As I was reading my Bible, a most unlikely thing happened. I heard someone ask, “Excuse me, Ma’am. May I ask you a question?”

Startled, I lifted my head to see the young woman I had passed earlier. She was standing there with a notebook in her hand.

She hesitantly smiled and asked, “I couldn’t help but notice you today. I am in college and my English professor gave us an assignment to go to a place and explore it, then do a first person interview of someone there. Since I have seen you walking around for a while I wondered if I could interview you?

I smiled. Incredulous.  I knew that I was in the midst of something wondrous. “Sure. Have a seat.”

Melissa told me that she had always liked the cemetery and its sculptures. When she was given the assignment, she knew it was the place to use.

“So, why are you here?” she asked.

I took a deep breath and began to tell her my story.

“Well, this is my husband’s grave. John died very suddenly almost two years ago while out on a run. I’m here because I need to finalize our grave marker. The one you see is supposed to be temporary. I’ve been here today trying to decide how to design it, and now I’m reading my Bible to choose the verses for it.”

I told her how the Lord has carried me every day since John died. She was tender and sweet as she listened.  Tearing up as she heard we had four children.

Time passed as we sat and listened to each other’s stories and the pain that we both have known. Melissa’s journey in 20 short years has been challenging. She told me she felt like she was at a crossroads.  The more I talked about God’s presence in my life, the more interested she became, so I opened my Bible and told her about His love for her.

The irony of talking about eternity while sitting in a graveyard was remarkable.

“Melissa, we are all going to die. Look around you.  We are literally surrounded by death in every direction. We need to be rescued. We need hope. God has given us that rescue and hope in Jesus Christ. At the end of life, the only thing that matters is your relationship with Him.”

I continued explaining what the Bible says about us and our need for someone to rescue us from our self-focused lives and the death we deserve.

“Only a flawless life can enter into God’s presence. He is holy. No matter how much He loves us, our imperfection is a barrier between us. That is why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.”

“Christ lived a perfect life because He loves His Father and He loves us.  He gave His perfect life up to God so that we could be forgiven. Forever. Ephesians 2:13 says, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

I continued to show her verses in Romans. “A relationship with God has a beginning. Romans 10:9 says that it starts quite simply: ‘If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’  A few verses later we’re told that, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”

It was like being on holy ground as we talked about the most important things of life. It was astounding.  Melissa was finding hope. I could see it in her smile and hear it in her voice.  We both knew we were meant to be there together. There is nowhere His love can’t go.

As our conversation ended, I prayed for her and gave her my contact info. I encouraged her to do all the things I tell anyone who wants to move forward with God:

  • read the Bible- the book of John tells you about Jesus and Psalms puts our own struggles into words. They are great places to start.
  • talk to God about the things that are on your heart and mind. He is listening.
  • find a church. I invited Melissa to come to ours and to attend a women’s conference with me.
  • listen to Christian music. It will change your perspective when you’re overwhelmed and spiraling downward.

We hugged each other and headed to our cars. Amazed and refreshed by the time we shared.

In the following weeks and months, Melissa’s journey with God began to gain momentum.  She did the things I suggested, even attending the conference, though she barely knew me.  She has found our church to be a place where she can grow and be encouraged in her faith.

A year later she isn’t the same young woman I met in Westhampton Cemetery. She is full of joy and peace and confidence. She has made some changes in her life that took great courage. It is obvious that God is working beautifully and powerfully in her life. I can’t wait to see all that He has in store for her.

I am still amazed how God transformed a dreaded day into a precious gift for me to treasure. It really felt like John and I were together encouraging a young woman who needed hope.

And, the marker?  It turned out beautifully. I will show it to you in my next post.

You never know where His love will take you, so “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

We go nowhere by accident, and the Lord loves to do amazing things when we least expect it.

Peace & grace in all your goings,





Welcome in. Again.

Ok. I know.  I disobeyed the cardinal rule of blogging: post consistently.

I am sorry.  You all are so wonderful and supportive that I know you will be quick to say, “it’s okay! There’s no pressure!”  Thank you for that.

But, there has actually been a reason.

When you’re traveling and get close to your destination, do you turn up the GPS and get hyperfocused? I frequently do. At that stage in our travels, John would announce in his very loud, no-nonsense dad voice: “Everybody be quiet! We have to focus on figuring out where to go. No talking! No breathing!”

That has been my life recently.  I have been in the midst of a steep learning curve in this journey. It has been a time to really listen to what I sense the Lord is revealing in my heart and showing me about my new life. From what I hear, it is a very normal place to be a few years after the loss of a spouse.

So, I have needed to really focus as I turn this corner in my journey. I wanted to give the Lord as much of my listening as I could. No moving fingers on keyboards.

As my heart and mind are settling into this new place, I feel a little weary but peaceful! It has been an intense time of new realizations.  In the weeks to come I will share bits and pieces of my recent discoveries, but here is the big picture.  It came to me today when I was thinking about the sermon we heard in church this morning.

We are in a series about the Lord’s Prayer, and today Pastor David directed us to prayerfully consider, “thy kingdom come.” As he talked about the challenge of truly asking God to bring His kingdom into our hearts and lives, I realized that I have a whole new kingdom to surrender to God.

This is how I explained it to my son on the way home from church.

When we are young and we hear about giving our lives to God, we don’t even fully know ourselves or our lives.  We’re like someone standing in the foyer of their new home that they bought sight unseen.  They have no idea what is really in the house.  A basement? A third floor TV room? How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms?

It is pretty straightforward to surrender to God when you don’t even really know what you are surrendering.

But, then you start to check out the house and you find there are parts you aren’t so sure you want him to have access to. If you have ever read My Heart Christ’s Home, then you will understand the analogy. You ask God questions like, “You mean you want control of the remote? the master bathroom with the soak tub? my ipad? the closet where I have stuffed some things I’d rather keep private?”

And, He keeps firmly, kindly saying, “Yes. I want to be Lord of it all. It’s best this way. You can trust me.”

Well, I gave as much of my life as I knew when I was 11, and the next 32 years was spent finding new places in my life to surrender to Him. College. Marriage. Children. They were full of areas for me to relinquish.

But, now I am in an entirely different “house.”  I feel like I am in the foyer all over again. I have no idea what is in this new house. Maybe it is an apartment? Maybe it is a sprawling ranch? Who knows?  I certainly don’t. I am standing in a place I never knew I’d be with a future that is undefined.

As I sat in church today I realized that, though I have been a Christian for many years, I am at a new place of surrender to Christ.  I don’t know what the future holds but I again need to say, “Lord, I am surrendering this new life to you.”

Maybe some of you have had this happen to you. Maybe life shifted in a way that made the future completely change. The things or people that were part of your future are no longer there.  My heart goes out to you. Wherever and whoever you are.

All I know is that surrendering your new life is the only way to truly find it. Jesus says, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” Matthew 10:39

I trusted Him in my previous “home” and I know He is the only One I want to trust again as I look ahead into a very unclear future.

For those of you who are younger…I assure you that as your life continues to open up and you explore the other rooms and floors, He is the One to follow. He loves you now and will love you in ways in the future that you can’t imagine. You don’t want to miss it!

The reality for all of us is that every day we can pray the Lord’s prayer and have new parts of our lives to surrender.  We will have new reasons every day to say, “your kingdom come into this new place in my life.” May we all be brave enough to pray it and mean it. It’s where heaven meets earth.

May His will be done in my life and yours,


PS  You can listen to the sermon here: Pray. Live. Repeat– go to “Kingdom Seekers” It should be posted Monday, January 19. Last week was great too! : )


New Year Jitters

First things first, I hope all of you had a very merry Christmas with family and friends. I was reminded again this year of how much I treasure the gift of Christ more than ever. What would I do without Him? How would I breathe and function in our loss if I didn’t have the steady hope of heaven in my heart? Every day is Christmas because I cling to the life and hope His arrival ushered in.

There has been a lot of holidaying around here, and there is nothing I savor more than time with my four kids.  Having two home from college means I am in my sweet spot.  So, writing has been on the shelf (as were laundry, bills, cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets).

But, now there is a rare quiet moment. The dishwasher is gurgling, the washer is chugging, my dog is breathing heavily as she snoozes beside me, and the ignored stuff is done.

Though my fingers haven’t been putting words to screen recently, my mind and heart have been busy. Very, very busy.  They have been swirling and wrestling in ways I didn’t expect as I said good-bye to 2014 and hello to 2015. Maybe some of you can identify.

1. New Year Reality Check- When your life has been entirely, radically altered, every day is new. Every day takes courage. Every day takes all of you. A new year is only a change in numbers that I write incorrectly on my checks for months, because every day is lived in a new reality I never wanted or expected. I am used to brand new every day.

Frankly, the level of newness is very tiring.

So, the unpleasant novelty of my new life as a single mom and widow has worn thin. I have a really good idea of what each of those 365 days ahead will feel like. This new year will continue to require more of me than I ever thought I would be able to give.

And, the main wrong part of my life won’t change. John really, truly isn’t coming back. I am really, truly doing life alone.

2. New Year Relief– Honestly, I felt guilty about it this past week, but I was glad to say good-bye to 2014. It was a year with some truly wonderful times, YET it was an exhausting year!  I loved the joys and adventures, but I also had to tackle some really hard things this year.

I am thankful for the big joys of the year because they counter-balanced the constant trudging uphill through the third year of this loss that just won’t go away. But, at the end of the year, I breathed a sigh of relief for the work that is behind me.

3. New Year Resistance– For all of my eagerness to let go of 2014, there is the knowledge that each year takes me further from John. Further from the beautiful life the six of us used to live together. Our previous life is becoming more historical.

I hate that.

I happened to see some photos of my son from the year John died. He was so little. So young. He was only 10 when his dad simply disappeared from his life. It made me feel sick. And angry.

My life used to be so beautiful, so simple, so straightforward. There is still beauty because my kids are so incredible, and God is loving us so tenderly.  But simple? Absolutely not. Considering any change means layers of complication.

If I could paint what my life looks like, it would be me standing directly in front of a tall brick wall. To my left, there is no wall, just wide open empty space. That is where I am reaching over with God’s grace and strong arms to help our kids move forward into their futures- a limitless blue sky future.

But, I am not moving. I am stuck.

I can plant ivy and make the wall a little lovelier, but nothing is changing the fact that I am facing a brick wall.

When I told my daughter this illustration of my heart, she quietly said, “Have you thought about stepping left?”

Left into a blue sky future? Hmmm….that is scary. I never imagined I would need or want a second chapter life.

My future has always been tied to John’s career and life. Since I was a teenager, I have purposely made choices that allowed me to be in a supportive role. I don’t have regrets about that. At all. But, now I find myself with my future completely blank. One big question mark.

It is a very unexpected place. Unnerving. Those new year evaluations of my life bring many questions. Who am I now? What is my purpose beyond my kids?

And with each passing year, it only gets more real. 2015 means it it is getting harder to say that my husband died recently. In March it will be three years. We will begin the fourth year. Like it or not, time is moving us on. And beyond.

So, for people like me, like us, new years bring complicated emotions and questions.

But, for all of my new year dilemmas, my heart can’t stop singing with gusto the refrain of this song we sing at church:

“You, You are my first. You are my last. You are my future and my past.”

  -“Future/Past” John Mark McMillan (listen here)

Jesus Christ is climbing this uphill, rocky journey every day with me. My past has exquisite beauty and exquisite pain. And, my future?  I don’t know what that will be…I hope for more beauty; I expect more sorrow and I am anchored to the constancy of Him through it all.

He holds my future. He has held me through my past.  He is my first and my last, my future and my past. He is the unchanging, unwavering constant that I need. So, with new year jitters, I welcome 2015 because I know who is by my side and I know who has my future all figured out.

May the dawn of this new year find you brave & hopeful & confident in Him,

love, Maria

PS Many have asked about the Dad presents my kids received. : )  The gifts were a hit because they each had asked for something that was a reach! Daughter 1- a beautiful watch she had wished for (John loved watches) Daughter 2- a handmade leather bag by a designer she knows (John appreciated fine craftsmanship) Daughter 3- a European travel bag (John enjoyed unique travel luggage) Son- a Go Pro Hero (a more affordable early edition- John would have had a blast making adventurous videos with him.) They were all delighted. Me too.

PPS And I have loved hearing from other people who were inspired to do the same thing for their children or grandchildren.  As always, I love any beauty from our ashes. ((hugs))