He Loves Us Back to Life

Last month, March 8 came around again and marked five years since John went to heaven. Five years is a long time to miss someone you love.

Years ago, in our early days of dating and marriage, I feared losing John. I couldn’t imagine life without him. The thought of experiencing a loss that great would paralyze me. I couldn’t imagine surviving much less ever thriving again. I believed that if he died, my life would be permanently broken.

And, then after twenty two years together, what I feared actually happened. One early spring day, he was gone without a goodbye. For months, the days were gray and the future dim, but as the years have gone by, something miraculous has been happening: God’s tender, consistent love has wooed me out from under grief’s shadow.

His love just keeps showing up. He keeps on delighting my heart with moments I love. He surprises me with blessings that I couldn’t have imagined and joy I couldn’t see five years ago. Full, real, deep, fresh joy.

And, yes, I sometimes daydream about John walking through the door and how wonderful it would be for all of us. I will always want him back.

But, God is filling my life with real joy and real laughter and real peace. And, that, surprises me. I never thought it would be possible to feel like I love my life again.

I underestimated my Heavenly Father. 

I underestimated the powerful gift He gave us in Jesus Christ.

Because, what I realize now is that
Jesus Christ is a Savior, not only for the dead, but also for the living.

On March 8, John needed a Savior, and God met John’s deepest need for rescue from death. As a little boy, John had simply believed Jesus Christ’s promise. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” At 44 as he collapsed on a jogging trail, John’s belief transformed into present reality as God brought him home to heaven.

But, all of us- John’s family and friends- needed a Savior that day too. God’s consoling love came to our rescue. He fulfilled the promises He has made to love us well when grief hits hard. His love has never stopped, whether it was through His Spirit’s reassurance in the middle of the night or as He prompted someone to help, pray, or simply give a hug.

On March 8, God’s love was set in motion in a new way in our family, and it continues to heal and restore us. Years ago when I feared tragedy, I simply didn’t account for the fact that God’s sustaining grace and goodness and love could outsize grief.

Five years out, I can truly say He is doing just that: His love is bringing joy and gladness into my life and deep into my soul. My life is becoming a different kind of wonderful as He patiently loves and steadies me. I am learning that nothing is too big for Him to overshadow with His peace and truth and presence and eternal perspective.

No matter what any of us have faced in the past or what we may face in the future, His love can bring true healing and bright hope and deep joy and settled peace. You don’t need to be afraid of what may be ahead. He will be your anchor for any and every storm.

There will be days when it feels like we’ve lost our bearing. But, it’s okay. He will be there to help our faith get back up again. It takes time to learn to trust and listen to His love instead of our emotions and fears.

But He is patient and steadily encourages us as we learn to live in today with Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that we are blessed to be comforted by God. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The treasure and wonder of the past five years has been experiencing God’s love and sustaining strength and peace. Jesus is right. It is a blessing to personally experience the tender comfort of God.

May you know with greater confidence that God will give us everything we need for this life’s journey- yesterday, today and tomorrow. You don’t have to go there alone.

with His love that brings us back to life,
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

 

 

 

Grief Grows Up

My grief is growing up. This week, on Tuesday, March 8, it turns four years old.

I happen to be familiar with four year olds. A few years ago I persuaded my teenage daughter and son to help me lead the four year old class at our church. We are with them two Sundays each month. We love them.

It is quite amazing how similar a group of four year old children are: potty trained, increasingly confident, generally cooperative- they understand not to hit, and that it is nice to share, and when the teacher is talking it is time to be self-controlled. They are unique people with distinct personalities in little bodies.

Those little people have come a long way from the tiny bundles who were placed in their parents’ arms four years ago.

Right next door to our classroom is the three year old class.  Peeking in there is a reminder of the amazing growth that happens in just a year’s time. That class has a very different tone.

Potty trained? maybe, maybe not.
Sharing? not fans.
Listening to story time? sitting still is hard.
Happy to be there? not really. Being with mom and dad is always better.

It is a room full of emotions those little ones can only express in tears and limited words. Three year olds are absolutely adorable, but they are definitely high maintenance. My kids and I aren’t brave enough to take on an entire class.

But I can identify with them. And I am glad to be turning four.

If you have been in a delivery room, then you know the holy, stunning reality of birth. The process isn’t pretty,  but miraculously life perseveres, even though it is messy and howling. For each of us, our Day One begins the long process of figuring out life.

We are welcomed by grace.

Grace cleans us up. Grace comforts. Grace hushes.
Grace holds. Grace kisses. Grace smiles.
Grace whispers love. Grace embraces.
Grace expects little of us and gives us much.

And grace is there ready to do it all over again when we wake up each morning.

The graces continue as we grow.

For me, the last four years began with a sudden c-section birth into an entirely unfamiliar world:  a world where death permanently changed reality for my husband. For me. For our four children.

I was reduced to an infant. Needy, messy, undone. Nights and days confused. Unable to eat solids. Crying was my native language.

Grace embraced me.

And, I have been growing up the past four years through the early days of grief’s bewildering, needy infancy into the growing confidence and awareness of toddlerhood.

All along the way there has been God’s presence and grace for my lack of understanding, my yearnings, my confusion, my over reactions, my insecurities, my bad days, and good ones.

There has been grace for tantrums and inconsolable days.

There has been grace to love and care for four people who needed me to wake up and lead the way forward.

There has been grace as the songs of His love surround me on Sunday mornings.

There has been grace given as the sun still shines, ocean waves lap shores, birds sing, and seasons change.  All of it gently, continually coaxing me to see joy and recognize hope.

And there has been grace expressed through the people who have helped, listened, reassured, and loved. Patiently. Willingly.*

And, as we arrive at year four, this is what I know: in the embrace of grace, my grief is growing up. Grief’s infancy and toddler days are becoming memories.

I feel four.

My grief will always be part of who I am. It is my story, but we are growing up together.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Reading friend, if there is grief in your life, may you also find His tireless, gentle grace helping you.

thank you for being here with me~ listening as you read,
maria

**thank you my dearest, closest family and friends. You know who you are. I love you more than I ever imagined, for reasons I never thought I’d know.

 

 

Christmas Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Peaceful

The house is quiet this morning. My four children nestled snug in their beds. Rain is hitting the window of my office as I type. All is cozy. Even though John isn’t here with us, there is peace in my heart.

I still marvel to find peace in my heart and mind; it is real and it is enduring. It is the first thing to reassure me in the morning, and it tucks me in at night so I can sleep.  This peace is from God’s constant presence with me.

This is our fourth Christmas without John. There have been four years of gradually accepting the story God has chosen to write in my life, in John’s life, and in our children’s lives.

Four years of trusting Him in the midst of a story-gone-wrong for as long as I live on this earth. His peace is greater, bigger, deeper, and wider. It covers all that is missing and disappointing in my life, today and in my future.

Peace is possible even though life can be so wrong. So broken. So confused. So stressful.

And the peace I know is from someone whose name actually means “God with us.”  His most familiar name is  Jesus Christ. 

Christmas is when God sent Him to be with us.

And that first Christmas was far from perfect: Mary was nine months pregnant and on a donkey. She and Joseph forced by a oppressive, foreign ruler to make an inconvenient road trip- the ultimate in bureaucratic annoyance.

No where to stay that was welcoming. Their only shelter in a barn. No other women to help her in her labor and none of their immediate families around to rejoice at this baby’s birth (though a host of Jesus’s heavenly family did show up!).

If your Christmas this year feels far from perfect, find comfort in knowing that it is consistent with that very first Christmas in Bethlehem. It has never been about the perfect surroundings or perfect travels or perfect gatherings.

Why should our Christmas be any different than his?

Instead, it has always, always been about the perfect gift. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world- God with us.

You can live every day with God; today, tomorrow, and even on your last day and into eternity. Jesus, the first and best Christmas gift, makes you evergreen inside. Forever.

And on a rainy morning (though maybe yours is sunny or snowy), I invite you to set aside all your busyness for just a few minutes and read the devotional I’ve tucked at the end of this post.  You’ll see how Jesus fulfills every wish and wonder of our hearts every Christmas- no matter the weather, the angst, the burned cookies, or the virus that just won’t stop because its Christmas.

You might even enjoy reading it to your family so everyone can pause and remember that our best gift isn’t under the tree.

May He truly make your hearts ever-merry this Christmas (no matter what or how or where this Christmas finds you),

because of His love,  Maria

PS I found the Advent devotional below on She Reads Truth (they also have a site He Reads Truth). Great website- definitely worth checking out.

Jesus is the Promised One 

Text: Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 16:5, Micah 5:2, Galatians 4:4-7, 1 Peter 1:20-21

Since Adam and Eve ate the fruit God told them not to, every generation has groaned with the pains of childbirth, longing to be delivered from the effects of their first parents’ fall (Romans 8:22). And now, our deliverer has come. He is the hero of our story, the perfect spotless lamb sent to adorn the doorposts of our hearts with His own blood (1 Peter 1:17–21, Exodus 12:22).

He is the descendant from Eve sent to crush the head of the deceiver (Genesis 3:15). He is Isaac’s ram caught in the thicket, God’s perfectly timed provision of a substitute (Genesis 22:13). He is the heir of Abraham’s line—born by a miracle and filling the world with laughter (Genesis 22:18).

He gave Jacob the gracious gift of a limp to remind him of his weakness (Genesis 32:25). He is the new Joseph, the forgotten brother, unrecognizable in a foreign land (Genesis 42:8, John 1:11), though He alone possesses the resources needed to satisfy our spiritual famine.

He is our new Moses, sent by God to deliver us from the land of our slavery into our promised inheritance (Exodus 3:7–10). He doesn’t just deliver God’s Law to us (Exodus 34:29), He fulfills it on our behalf—perfectly (Matthew 5:17).

He is the faultless judge who rescues His people from our own waywardness (Judges 2:17, 2 Corinthians 3:4–6). He does what no other judge is able to do—He takes our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).

He is the King the Lord promised to David, a ruler from his own body whose Kingdom the Lord would establish forever, ancient and strong (2 Samuel 7:12). He has courage deeper than David (Luke 6:1–5), wisdom greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31), and faith firmer than Elijah (Matthew 4:1–11). He is the remnant growing beneath the smoldering ruins of Judah, the Son to be given, the child to be born (Isaiah 9:6).

He is Immanuel—God with His people (Isaiah 6:13).

Where there is despair, He brings hope. Where there is brokenness, He brings healing. Where there is sadness, He brings joy. Where there is bondage, He sets people free.

The people of His day had grown up with the stories of Immanuel’s coming. They had heard the prophets implore them to listen, but seeing, they did not see, and hearing, they did not hear, nor did they understand (Matthew 13:13).

But who could blame them? Jesus grew up like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground with nothing in His form—no majesty or beauty—that would lead anyone to desire Him (Isaiah 53:1–3). No one could know by looking at Him that He had come to bear their grief and carry their sorrows. The days ahead for Him would bring suffering so great that people would consider Him stricken by God and afflicted.

But the purpose of this suffering was what pleased the Father. He would be wounded for our transgressions. He would be crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him would be laid the punishment that would bring His people peace, and by His wounds we would be healed (Romans 5:1, Hebrews 9:22, Isaiah 53:4–5).

Like sheep, every last man, woman, and child has gone astray, each turning to their own way. So the Father sent His Son and laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6–7).

Under unjust allegations, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, and put to death as a criminal. But death could not hold Him. He had done no wrong, so He owed it no wage. Jesus was never the victim of men; it was the will of His Father to crush Him. It was God who put Him through such grief to bear the iniquities of His people, making many unrighteous men righteous (Isaiah 53:8–12).

No one took His life from Him. He laid it down, and He took it up again, claiming victory over the grave (John 10:18).

All of this required a birth.

written by Russ Ramsey
adapted from Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

As found on this site: She Reads Truth: Jesus is the Promised One

Umm, How Are You Doing?

It is a question I hear often, and every single time my brain gridlocks. The question is asked earnestly. People care. They genuinely want to know how we are doing- each of the kids, our new house, the upcoming holidays, and the status of my grief’s healing process.

I want to honor their question with honesty. 

But where to begin? And do they have time for the answers? Are they really just happy to hear we are holding steady or do they want to know more?

In a split second, my mind considers those things before I reply. If it is in passing, they receive a smile and, “we are doing well, thank you.” If there is a window of time for conversation, they might hear various updates.

I guess the problem is that the question is ultimately too broad. Each of us represents layers of life:

Our bodies- healthy, well or somewhere in between

Our life responsibilities- jobs, houses, the chores of caring for the stuff of life, future plans

Our many relationships and their ups and downs

Our mental & emotional stresses & joys

Our soul’s pulse

So, the question, “How are you doing?” needs to be more specific because no single answer accurately represents the whole of me, or you. Maybe some parts of life are great, but others stink. The answers can vary tremendously. Life is always in flux.

When I was five, one sock could be nicely pulled up but the other one down around my ankle (sometimes, miserably down in my shoe!). One up, one down. Life tends to be like that. There always seems to be something to tend to.

For me, any answer I give is easily misread. Saying we are doing well doesn’t mean I am “over grieving” and moving on with this unexpected new life (whatever that means?!).

So, here are some how-we-are-doing highlights from two dimensions of my life:

Kids:
Biggest news- my oldest daughter is engaged & getting married next summer! Surely, you will be hearing more about this in the months to come, but we are genuinely delighted she is marrying someone so wonderful. We have been praying for him since she was a little girl. John would be smiling.

Just like in many of your families, school/college is challenging and time consuming for all of them. Our third daughter is a high school senior; she is in the midst of college application stress (& we feel her pressure). Pray. Work. Love. (& give back rubs!)

They are becoming adults before my eyes and wowing me with the shift of balance. I am on a train headed back from NYC; typing as I travel. My second daughter lived there for a few weeks last summer so she was my city tour guide- confident, capable, and city savvy. It was so wonderful having her in charge. How the tables have turned since our earlier days in NYC when I pushed her in a stroller! I am really becoming enthralled with this stage of my kids becoming my adult friends. 

New House:
Our new house is feeling like home, and we are looking forward to spending the holidays there together. There are some areas that still need to be dealt with, but I just work on them when I have the focused time and the energy. There are at least 50 things that make it a wonderful spot for us! I exclaim about them to the kids frequently. All of the hard work to move was worth it. The Lord was so good to place us there.

And, as we have settled into our home, I have found I am settling in too. Quieting down inside. Moving- the anticipation, the decision, the process- it created a lot of angst, but the dust is settling literally & figuratively.

The unwelcome, awkward novelty of being a widowed mom is becoming intuitive and is actually, very rewarding. At first, after John died, it was a reflexive, protective response, but now it is a privilege and joy. I am relishing these last few years (or in my daughter’s case- months) of it being my daily job.

And, that, my reading friends, is a little slice of how we are doing.

May the Lord give you grace to keep on praying, working & loving,

By His daily grace, I am too,

Maria

Three Years: Our Kids’ Perspectives

Arriving at the three year mark has felt different than the previous two years. It has reminded me of the days when our children were babies, and we had to transition from saying they were “weeks old” to “months old” to “years old.”  Some of you will know what I am talking about.

Someone would ask you how old your baby was, and you’d pause. You’d realize that it sounded silly to say 17 weeks old. It was time to accept reality. Your baby wasn’t a newborn! It was time to transition to months. And then, years.

That is what has been happening in us. It hasn’t been “just a few months” or “just last year” since John died. We’ve made it through three years. We now have begun our fourth year. We aren’t new to this anymore, but we don’t feel “this old.”

As time drew near our family began to talk about how we were feeling. Our children had some very honest insights. Here are excerpts from conversations with three of our children:

“It’s kind of scary to get further from dad’s death. You don’t want to get further from it (because it means the distance between him & us is growing), but at the same time you want to put as much distance between you and his death as you can.” – third daughter

“Three gets clumped with five. It isn’t 1-2 years anymore, now it has been 3-5 years. And 5 is a really long time.” – second daughter

“It is easier but weird. I can’t believe we’ve made it this long without him.” – middle school son

And our oldest daughter wrote this on her blog:

It is the three year anniversary (is there a better word than anniversary – it seems far too celebratory) since my dad died suddenly of an aneurysm while on a run.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Three years since my life (and my family’s life) screeched, halted, restarted, redefined, redesigned, and resumed.

We are not broken or disabled. We are able to live with our scars. Our bruised hearts don’t show through our eyes and our laughter comes genuinely from our hearts.

Psalm 116: The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.

Death is hard and unfair and awful in every sense. There were days (and probably will be days) where the grief felt too much for me to carry. And The Lord did as he promised.

He came near in ways I don’t have the vernacular to explain. He filled my heart with peace and gave me the ability to find a new identity in him. He preserved me and saved me from the depths of despair.

John 16: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy

Since March 8, 2012, I have been in a time of mourning. With that mourning comes anger, bitterness, confusion, doubt, and moments of forgetting or distracting myself from the reality of my pained heart. And, simultaneously, the fun, terrifying, beautiful, confusing, most wonderful adventure of being 18, 19, now 20 and in college.

Life is not linear or comfortable and death (and grieving) is never convenient.

Lamentations 3:21-25 But this I call to mind,and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him,to the soul who seeks him.

I am not screaming in anger and confusion and hurt anymore. Instead, I feel sorrow. Screaming cripples and is all consuming. Sorrow comes and goes and can accompany the good and beautiful in life (and I have plenty of that as well).

I’m learning, slowly, to accept the bitter and the sweet and no longer fight against the reality of hurt. I don’t understand and I never will. And there will be days of confusion and anger, but I know I will survive.

Psalm 68:4-6 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

And I know I have an awesome dad who wouldn’t want me to scream and fight and argue with God for the rest of my life. So, that’s where I’m at today. And I know that I don’t have to fear tomorrow.

Psalm 34:1-5 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant,and their faces shall never be ashamed.

~~~~~~~

Looking to the Lord together,

Maria & family

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