Stay in Today

You woke up today in what was your tomorrow. It is profoundly true; the future unfolds one day at a time. Methodically, rhythmically, always on time. We are getting to the future slowly but surely.

There are times when it just can’t get here fast enough because you are anticipating what is ahead. Like when there is something exciting on the horizon: new babies, weddings, graduations, trips, renovations, or a move to a new place or a new beginning.

But, then there are times when it is completely unknown and you really want a pair of binoculars. That is where I am these days. What is ahead for me? I have absolutely no idea. I know some pieces of the puzzle, but it seems like I am missing some really. big. pieces.

While binoculars can be handy, they really aren’t very helpful for seeing the step right in front of you. And, that is where we live: we live in today.

I can be so focused on peppering the Lord with questions about my future that I forget to live the very day I am in. The day He has given me to love Him and love others and do the work that is today.

Lately, the Lord has been redirecting me back into the present.

Jesus says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

And so I am reminded that I need to stay in today. Is there something I know I am supposed to be doing today? Do that. Do first things first.

Start with the thing that is smack dab right in front of me, in front of you. Little by little, day by day we will make our way into all our tomorrows. And who knows, maybe there will be something in one of our todays that sends those future tomorrows onto a whole new trajectory; one that we can’t envision now.

What we can’t anticipate when we consider the future is that we don’t know everything there is to know. We may know some realities, but we don’t know them all.

Over and over again I have found that the Lord met me on the days I dreaded with surprises of His grace that changed everything…changed how I felt, changed how the day actually unfolded.

I am trusting that His faithfulness to me on specific days will also be true of His faithfulness in the seasons ahead for me. The future that is unknown to me is completely known to Him.

I can be content today. I don’t have to know my future. Instead, I can rest in the truth that my God does know it, and He will be loving me in my tomorrow as much as He is loving me today, right now.

I have been at the beach for a few days. This morning I woke up early and felt prompted by the Lord to peek outside at the sunrise. Before I even got to the window I could see the pinkish golden glory beckoning me.

And, as I expectantly looked out over the Chesapeake Bay, within moments a new day had been birthed. A new dawn was filling the sky with streaks of fresh golden glory. What a way to begin  this today.


There is nothing like a sunrise to remind us of God’s daily faithfulness.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8

That verse says it all. Each morning God is faithful to us…the sun comes up and gives this planet and all who live on it another day full of light and life. We can trust Him.

The God who does that is the One we can trust to show us the way we should go. He will light the way forward. One day at at time.

And, so I have set aside my eagerness for future-revealing binoculars. I am living today. Some days that is the next load of laundry, other days it is the writing project that I know He put into my heart to do. He is showing me how to attend to what He has given me to do now and leave my tomorrow safe with Him.

And, He is right. I have enough light from Him to do today.

To you who read these words, my prayer for you today from a little beach house on a bay, is that your heart is full of light. It is Jesus Christ, the Morning Star, who fills our hearts and lives with light. May He rise in your heart as you ask Him to lead your way today and for every tomorrow.

His presence in your life will flood your heart with God’s love for you and you will have hope for all that the future holds.

And on one best. day. ever.  He will bring you home to Him and the light and glory will never end.

“For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 4:6

living in today & trusting Him with every tomorrow,
maria

Daring to Dream Again

Well, we are at the end of the first month of this new year and resolutions aren’t quite as shiny. I don’t typically make many new year resolutions. Since John died, my resolutions have been simple: “I am resolved, with God’s sustaining grace, to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 365 days.”

Repeat for five  years.

But this year, something unexpected happened. One snowy Saturday morning when the year was just a few days old, the Lord began to gently challenge me. My friend, Nicole Unice had a new blog that caught my eye, “Why I Believe in Life Goals (and How You Can Set Them for Yourself).”

As I read, the tears began to fill my eyes as I faced the fact that I don’t have any dreams for my life anymore. Not like I used to. There is no life bucket list.

It evaporated when John died. The bucket still sits empty, not a drop in it.

John was part of every dream I had. There were things we wanted to do, places we wanted to go, people we wanted to help. We wanted to encourage our children and love our grandchildren. We imagined God would give us new horizons as our children left home, and we learned to serve Him in a new season.

The operative words of “we” and “together” are now obsolete. Nothing on our list will be experienced together. Instead, all of it is forever left undone.

It is depressing and scary and disorienting. For five years, the future, which used to beckon with joy, has just been a gray haze. When I try to project to the years beyond raising our children, I haven’t been able to see anything but mist.

Since John died, I have repeated this sentence hundreds of times, “I just want to finish well what we started together: raising our kids and helping them launch into adulthood.” Everyone who knows me well has it memorized.

And, I have been fully committed to it. But, I am working my way out of a job. One bird is off and has flown halfway across the country. The other two are perching on the edge of the nest. Only one remains in the nest, and he is flapping his wings with strength and confidence.

I need some plans and dreams. The future is approaching my doorstep.

You just can’t skip over this part of grieving the loss of your spouse (or other hard realities in life that cause you to start over). It is real, and it has to be fully acknowledged. It is important to make peace with what was and what you hoped would be, and then tenderly kiss your old bucket list goodbye.

Only then can you face a new future- standing in a new place, hoping to find hope.

As I sat there that snowy day and read Nicole’s blog, I felt the Lord reassuring me that I can be brave. He is with me. I can trust Him to move into an unknown future with me. 

I felt tentative. Honestly, I have never dreamed about my life all by myself. Just me. It feels strange and unfamiliar. How do I do this? Since I was 15, John has been part of every dream.

A blank sheet of paper stared at me. Daring me to write down even one dream beyond launching my children into adulthood.

It takes faith and hope in God to believe you can have a future after devastating loss.
It takes faith and hope to trust that God has work for you to do.
It takes faith and hope to believe that God desires for you to live and love and give.
It takes faith to believe God can fill your life with wonder and joy again.

You need God’s help to let go of one bucket list (like the tattered and torn one I’ve been hanging onto) so you can look at a clean, blank sheet and begin again.

I am pioneering my own life for the first time, and it isn’t by choice. As hard as it is to say, it is by God’s unique design. With His permission. With His knowledge. In His plan for my story.

He knew I would be a widow at 43. I may still be surprised, but He isn’t. And He has something in mind for my life.

It is a holy work…summoning up the desire and courage and will and hope to dream, not just survive. It takes faith in God to believe your life is meant to be fully lived right now and into each tomorrow He gives.

I am not there yet, but I am on the way.

And, I am going to share my journey with you because I know I am not the only one who is drawing a blank when it comes to dreaming again. Life has more than one way to turn your bucket list of hopes and  dreams upside down.

You will hear more about this part of my unexpected journey because it is where I am right now.

But, I leave you with this truth: You are loved by God and He desires to fill your bucket with more than a wish list. He desires to fill it to the brim with His love so that you can overflow into other peoples’ lives and love them where they are, just as they are, and on His behalf. His plans for us are fueled by love, to fuel us for love.

Rest assured. Though your future may look very different than you had hoped or dreamed, He has new plans to unfold. And they are good.

May He begin to rekindle hope in your heart today
& may He whisper God-Sized dreams into your soul,
maria

 

 

 

Strength One Step At A Time

In March 0f 2012, my life as a widow was just beginning. With four children to continue raising, I was stunned with the realities of parenting alone, keeping a household running, making business decisions, and comforting our children in their loss.

Life needed more from me than I had to give. Everywhere I looked there were issues to resolve, questions to answer, love to give, and areas that needed my leadership. And, I wasn’t in a place of personal strength. I was weak, wounded, shocked. 

One morning, two weeks into my unexpected (& unwanted) new life,  I received a text from my husband’s sister just when I needed it most:

Love you and praying for continued strength.
‘Go in the strength you have been given.’

What strength? I didn’t feel like I had any. How could I possibly have an endless stream of strength for the days and years ahead? Not me, especially the brokenhearted me. The mountains ahead of me looked impassable and impossible.

Yet, hope whispered to me from the verse she had quoted from the book of Judges. I opened my Bible to read more. I was surprised to find a man I could identify with.

In Judges 6, Gideon is a desperate and devastated man. So is his country. Israel has been defeated. No food. No housing. Utter disruption and ruin surround them, and they cry out to God for help. God responds by sending an angel with a rescue plan to Gideon.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” the Angel boldly announces to Gideon, who isn’t looking very heroic at the moment. Not at all mighty. Not like a warrior. He is furtively trying to thresh wheat in a wine press out of sight of their enemies. 

Gideon replies, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

My head nodded. I immediately identified with Gideon. Someone in the Bible was asking a question I was asking about my own life: “Look at these ruins around me! Why, Lord? Why?”

The angel’s response felt familiar. He doesn’t give Gideon an answer. He simply responds with a command: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Why is a question we ask when we are looking backward.  Instead, the Angel’s response focuses Gideon on the future. He gave him a call to move forward, regardless of the ruins surrounding him. A call to action:  “Go in the strength you have.”

Gideon isn’t convinced. He knows he isn’t the man for this huge job. He responds with another objection: “But, Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.”

The Angel encourages him:“I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

The source of Gideon’s strength is revealed: he would have strength that God would supply.

As the chapter unfolds, Gideon tests and questions God repeatedly. Patiently, God proves to Gideon over and over again that there is no mistake. He is called to this new role and God will equip him for it.

I was stunned to find that I identified with a man from thousands of years ago. His questions resonated deeply within my own heart: “If God is with us, why has all this happened? How can I do this hard assignment you are calling me to?”

Even in the initial weeks as a new widow, there was no doubt about my assignment and calling: take care of our family. The harder part has been figuring out how to do that without getting completely, utterly overwhelmed.

Like Gideon, I am all too aware of my weaknesses and lack of ability for many parts of this job, but they aren’t obstacles to God.

Gideon was given the same fuel that I am promised:  God is with us. It isn’t about the strength we have, it is about the strength He will give. 

My weakness did not fill me with hope for our future. In fact, at that point in our journey, if I thought about all the work set before me in the years ahead, I was simply stunned and overwhelmed. But reading this passage gave me confidence that God would supply me with strength for what He had given me to do. It was a game changer.

God helped me realize I couldn’t measure my ability to do this job by how I felt. My feelings were emotional responses but not indicators of ability. Feeling weak and overwhelmed didn’t mean I wouldn’t have strength as I needed it.  I just needed to trust that He wasn’t surprised I was a widow. He knew I had four children to love and raise, and He would strengthen me for what each day would bring.

Since then, the key has been to stay in the day, not looking ahead to tomorrow’s mountains yet to climb.  I keep waking up each day and doing what comes next in the strength God supplies. For each moment. Each breath.

Some of you may also face challenges today, with more on the horizon. Don’t measure your challenges by your strength, but by God’s strengthening. He is all-in with you and will lead you forward from “strength to strength.”

In Gideon’s story, I found hope for my unfolding story. When the challenges of life loom large, “go in the strength you have been given” continues to whisper courage and truth into my heart. Frequently, it helps me put one foot in front of the other.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you…they go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:7

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13
You can too. He’s got us.
~Maria
PS Thanks for the text, Stephanie.

 

 

 

Home Goes With Us

Walking to the mailbox a few months ago, I had an epiphany. “I am not living the dream anymore.”  I announced it out loud. It was a clarifying, freeing moment as I let myself accept the reality of what my life is now.

John and I moved to our home nearly 11 years ago.  When we did our kids were 10, 8, 6 and 2.  It now feels like a lifetime ago, but we made the most of every moment in this house. It has been full of the family happenings that transform a house into a beloved home: roller skating in the basement, bikes driven endless miles up and down the driveway, streamers bedecking the dining room for birthday parties, and a dinner table where countless hours were spent hearing the stories of the day. Teeth wiggled, books read, cookies baked, weeds pulled, homework completed, laundry folded, prayers lifted, and countless reasons for tears and laughter. We have lived and loved here well.

I didn’t think we would ever move.

But, it was never a widowed woman’s dream. No. It was the dream of a husband and wife who knew a half-century old home would need special care. We tackled it together and enjoyed working hard to make the house our own. One look at John just made me smile and keep on working at the task at hand. But by myself?  No fun at all.

Over the past three years, I have learned that some of the most beautiful aspects of marriage are only understood and appreciated when they are gone. John energized me. It was mutual. Whatever the task or struggle, we energized one another to press forward. I didn’t fully realize how essential he was to my daily encouragement and motivation until he was gone.

He was also what made this house tick.

So, three years later I was finally able to say it out loud: I am not living the dream. Living here was a dream we shared but it was never one I would have chosen by myself. I now have different dreams. Dreams of a home that I can manage alone. One that doesn’t burden me with tasks beyond my capabilities and strength. He was the handy, strong one, not me.

The decision to move has been like false labor. Some days I was certain, other days the sheer task of it overwhelmed me. One Sunday afternoon I sat and told a friend my dilemma: to go or not to go. She listened and then politely, gently said:

“I like your reasons for moving, but I don’t really like your reasons for staying.”

Honest words from a friend.  She was right. Her wise observation helped me keep talking to the Lord about my desire for a new place to make our home. (My blog from March 27 “What Do You Really Want?” was written in the midst of this time.)

Little by little this spring, the Lord kept inching me forward. I promised the kids I wouldn’t sell the house out from under us until we had found the new one. Weeks of looking passed, but I didn’t find anything. My realtor came by one day, and I told her I just wasn’t seeing anything that interested me. “Maybe I will just tough it out and live here several more years,” I told her.

I spoke out of turn.

The next day I found a house that was a great fit for us now and in the years to come. Later in the summer I will share more details about the Lord’s kindness to us with our new home, but it is remarkable! In the past few busy weeks, I have put a contract on a new home and put ours on the market. I have battle scars to prove it: a nasty leg burn, an injured hand and too many bruises to count. But I am smiling and feeling free.

John always said if anything ever happened to him, I should sell the house. I am taking his advice. He’d be relieved. I am too. When the day actually comes to leave and I look around for the last time, it. will. be. hard. But, I know we take it all with us- in every treasured memory we will always be together.  Home goes with us and our truest, forever home is before us.

Loving the One who makes His home with us & never ever leaves,

Maria

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”   John 14:23

Love Even Goes Here

As I told you in my last post, it took me two years to decide what to put on John’s marker. It wasn’t a task to rush through for the sake of “getting it done.” I wanted to be completely sure about its appearance and wording.  Grave markers aren’t something you return.

Knowing that I was creating it without John’s input was intimidating. I really wanted to be confident that he would approve. That he would like it.  (And I truly think he would.) But it was something we had never talked about.

As I considered my options, questions arose. Obviously, a grave marker identifies a grave, but was there another purpose? Who would come to see it? What did I want the marker to convey- in its appearance? In the wording?

Most of all, how could I express our hope in Christ, even in this hardest of all places?

I talked to the Lord about it a lot, and the answers to those questions became abundantly clear to me over time: our marker is a declaration primarily to our children, their spouses, & especially our grandchildren, of our love for each other and for God. They will only be at our graveside a few times over the years, but I want them to remember us by what they see engraved there.

The truth is that John will never be known by our children’s spouses or our grandchildren. Yes, there will be stories about him and even some videos, but there will be no firsthand experience. They won’t have seen how we loved each other so deeply. They will know of our faith but won’t have seen John’s in real time. Nor will they have ever known us as grandparents. They won’t have actual memories of him.

For me, the marker is our final statement to them after we’re gone.  It is my attempt to say to those people, particularly our grandchildren, “You didn’t know us as “us” but we were given a beautiful love and we’ve been loved by an amazing God. He is the Author of our story. Our hope is forever in Him. He also loves you, and it is a bigger love than death itself. You can trust Him.” That is what I want them to truly know.

God gave me strength and courage and peace as I grappled with all of this. As I prayed and imagined, the Lord helped me put it all together. It needed to be simple, so it is. Just our story & a verse.

142

  • Our love story is best told by our wedding bands’ inscriptions. On my ring, John had engraved Eros Phileo Agape because he said it described how he fell in love with me, and God deepened it over time.  First, attraction (eros), then friendship (phileo), then selfless, unconditional love (agape).
  • John’s ring is engraved with Song of Solomon 2:3-4. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and  his banner over me is love.”  In a forest of young men, there was John!  An apple tree in their midst.  I delighted in him at 21. I still do.
  • The verse that I settled on is one that I am living. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:39. Since John’s death, I return to Romans 8 frequently because it explains my faith journey so well.
  • The overall look of our marker is formal because it seemed to suit John and his profession as a lawyer.  The design on the edge is similar to our wedding invitations, and the dogwoods around the vase represent Virginia, where our love story mostly took place.

It took several months for them to make it.  It was put in place the week of our 25th anniversary and my 46th birthday. When I received the email that it had been placed in the ground, I wept.

I wept for John. I wept for me. It is a reality check to be 46 and have your grave marker ready and waiting with your husband there. There is no illusion about death. Or about life.

Yes, sadly and ultimately, love will take each of us to a grave.  And we. will. be. powerless.

But, God doesn’t take us where He didn’t go first. 

Jesus’s love for His Father and for us took him to a grave too. But, death could not hold him. He promises that He won’t let it hold us either. “He who believes in me shall not die but have life everlasting.”  And, that is the most important truth anyone ever needs to know.

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This post was probably tough to read. It is tough to live. But, honestly, I hope that my candor moves you beyond fearing death into deeper faith.

I have been places I never thought I would have to go at this season of my life. Places I have always feared. But, I want to be a reassuring voice saying to all of you that the Bible’s promises of God’s presence in death are true. “The Lord is my Shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of death, you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4).

I have now walked in that valley. My Heavenly Father, my Good Shepherd, has gone with me. Comforted me as no one else can. I have never felt alone or forsaken by Him.  Instead, He has sustained me.

May you also truly know the Good Shepherd in this life. And beyond.

Unworthy of all this love but savoring it,

Maria

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

John 10:11  – Jesus