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

A New Love List

It’s Valentines week and our minds gravitate to the one we love. I think about the reasons I fell in love with John and continued to fall more in love with him over time. Love lists grows longer as you do life together: the beautiful (new babies), the stressful (moving & job changes), and the ordinary (brushing teeth elbow-to-elbow). Life lived as one.

This past year I started  a new love list. It all began when I started thinking about a conversation I had with John’s mom. She told me how their pastor frequently prays over the infants he baptizes: “May the name of Jesus always be sweet to this child.”  The phrase stuck with me.

I began to wonder if we had explained to our children WHY Jesus is sweet to us.  Why do we love him?

I wondered if we had settled for a shallow answer.

Any husband or wife can simply answer, “I love my spouse because I am supposed to. They’re married to me.” Similarly, Christians can rattle off, “Jesus died for me.  That is why I love Him.”

But, there is so much more to discover.

I decided to start re-reading the New Testament with this question framing every passage:

What do I love about Jesus in this passage?

It has been a treasure hunt. I am not done yet because the list just keeps getting longer. Along the way I am falling deeper in love with Jesus and who He was during His ministry on this earth. It is a way of thinking about Him that I had never discovered.

Read slowly and savor this sampling. It is a list for all of us.

I love Jesus Christ because…

  • He came and lived among us. (John 1:14)
  • He has made God known to me. (John 1:18)
  • He came to us full of grace and truth (undeserved kindness and accurate information). (John 1:14)
  • He gave us the right to become a child of God! (John 1:12)
  • He didn’t come to give us what we deserve- condemnation. Instead He came to save. (John 3:17)
  • He interacted with women and treated them with value. (John 4)
  • He cared that the crowds of people who followed him were hungry and He did something about it. (Matthew 15)
  • He didn’t distance himself from desperation and smelly people and broken bodies and grasping hands and tears and insistent voices or lack of respect for His personal space.  He allowed it all to come near Him. He was approachable. (Matthew 14)
  • He reassures us that the Kingdom of Heaven is an actual place where we should crave to be. (Matthew 13)
  • He invites us to come to Him when we are tired and overwhelmed so that He can give us sweet rest. (Matthew 11:28-29)
  • He became a curse for me so I’d be redeemed from my curse. (Galatians 3:13)
  • He became obedient to death for our sake, even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
  • He lived a life of love and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering & sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:2)
  • He made himself a servant for my good, even though He is God’s Son. (Philippians 2:7)
  • He gives us eternal life. (John 3:15-16)
  • He is repeatedly generous with His time, His power, His “rights”, His provision, His protection, His attention, His love, His words of hope, His teaching, His purpose.

The reasons go on and on and on. And, with every new reason I find that I am falling more deeply in love with Him. The real Jesus. I know Him better than I did before.

There is nothing special about me.  You can read the Bible and ask the same questions. Your hearts will beat faster as you realize there are endless reasons that His name is sweet to you. He is your forever valentine.

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25

May your love lists grow and the name of Jesus always be sweet to your soul…

Maria

Teen Love Can Last

Yes, it is true.  John & I are proof that you can meet the love of your life at 15 or 16.  That is how old we were 31 years ago today when John & I met on a yellow school bus.

We had been at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event at UVA with hundreds of other teenagers and ended up sitting together on the way back to Richmond.  Good thing we didn’t have cell phones to disappear into!

Instead, John’s inventive mind was plotting how to hold my hand. Endless rounds of thumb wars commenced and ended with the victor taking the spoils: my hand to hold!

When John cleaned up the bus after everyone got off, my interest was sealed. I came home and announced to my mom, “I met the kind of guy you’d want me to marry (& he is really cute too!).”

Thus began a love that hasn’t let me go. Death changed John’s location but the love that took up residence in my heart 31 years ago is still perfectly at home.

Recently, I was driving along with one of our girls and I announced, “I am still so in love with your daddy.”

A few minutes later she wistfully, quietly replied, “Mama, I am so glad you still love my daddy.”

It took my breath away. I didn’t realize that it would warm her heart to hear me say it.

It is simply the truth: love is stronger than death.

Last year, to celebrate our 30th anniversary of meeting one another, I wrote about the night we met. I wanted our kids and (very future grandkids) to remember and smile.

So, I am sharing it with you today. I know it is a little long, but it is the right post for this day.

Loving the One who gave him to me for 10,345 days,

Maria

 

Day One

November 12, 1983 and fall’s stained-glass sunlight made the afternoon glow.

Time to head home after a day of UVA football and faith.

A last minute seat change to another bus was the beginning of my future.

Now I was two seats away from “him.”

Blonde and blue, t-shirt and jeans;

All worn with confidence and  silliness in one compelling John Carroll package.

Girls had talked about him for weeks.

Now I knew why.

 

Buses stopped for fast food, sending teens in every direction.

Then herded back on: dimmed faces on a darkening bus; excitement in the air.

Me: Settling into empty seat.

Him: Out of the blue (with bluest eyes): “You’re in my seat.”

Me: “Your’s? Sorry. I didn’t know. I’ll move…”

Standing, fumbling, gathering stuff, preparing to slide by…

Him: “No, it’s okay. Would you like to sit in my seat with me?” (said with a smile).

“Umm….sure…” (inwardly: YES!)

 

Me?  John Carroll wants to sit by me?!  He doesn’t know me at all!

There are lots of girls on this bus who want this spot;

They’re all prettier, funnier, cooler than me.

How am I the lucky one?

But he. sat. down. Heart leaped. Tummy tangled.

It’s a long way back to Richmond & I’ve never sat with a boy like this.

A cute boy like this. In the dark.

 

And, he’s funny. (I love that! Laughter breaks all that’s awkward).

And, he likes to talk. (I like that too! So much more interesting when a guy talks.)

And, he likes to play games. (Thumb Wars? Kinda silly, but, okay, I’ll play.)

Rocky I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII…

He has a strong thumb. I am losing. Like a lot.

But, he doesn’t seem to mind, nor does he ever seem to get bored with this game.

Hmmm…uh oh…

He’s holding my hand, not my thumb. The wars are over and we’ve graduated to holding hands?!

I didn’t see this coming.

(Years later, naive me was surprised to learn it was his endgame design all along.)

 

Shoulder to shoulder. Arm to arm.

Little did we know we’d be spending life like this.

That over time we’d become one person…the dot on the j, the twin curves on an m.

Our adventure was starting.

Something bigger than either of us had begun.

Our four contributions to eternity were in a distant May, June, March and August.

All from this seemingly haphazard, but Sovereign, early beginning in November.

 

Slowing, swaying. Bus turns into the parking lot benediction.

A long day of filtering fall through young lungs;

football game cheers & bus ride of yelling-to-be-heard;

A frenetic day only endlessly energetic teens would call fun comes to an end.

Lights on! Tired teens file off the bus.

 

No surprise…we’re the last to leave (being the last to leave started early)

and I am stopped. in. my. tracks. by the stuff this guy is made of.

Because he’s cleaning up!

Teenage litter fills the aisles, and he begins to gather it all.

Honestly, cleaning hadn’t crossed my mind.

Now I’m rebuffed but O. So. Impressed.

Did he know that picking up trash was going to seal the deal? It did.

I. Was. Very. Interested to know him more.

Like maybe forever.

 

Emphatic words to my Mom in the kitchen that night.

“I met the kind of guy you’d want me to marry.”

“Really?” A mom’s patient smile.

Almost six years later, the dream came true.

 

Only 15 and 16 but a gracious, extravagant gift had been given.

Young?  Yes.

However, He doesn’t discriminate for age, as His own story tells.

It’s not too young if He does the giving.

He knew it was time…our time.

The clock began to tick. 10, 345 of the marrow of our life’s days.

This was Day One of our love’s forever.

 


John and maria scan without shadows

Living the Vows

They are the unwelcome words at a wedding. Those five words, “until death do us part.” On a day of beginnings, when death and separation are furthest from our minds, those words barge in. Like in a fairytale, when a vengeful fairy crashes the royal wedding with a curse of doom. Entirely unwelcome.

Yet, entirely true; the truest part of the vows we make. In our lives together we may never be at our worst or poor or sick and our passion may never diminish.  But, sadly, we will be separated by death.

On July 29, 1989, John and I made those vows. The most serious vows a person can ever make. So have many of you.
“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”

In my white gown gazing at my handsome prince, all I could hear was: “better…richer…healthy…loved…cherished”. Weddings are days for the glass to be full and running over with excitement and promise and joy. Don’t we all rush right on past those other foreboding words?

John always said that marriage vows aren’t for the good times. Who needs to make a vow for the days of health, wealth, and wedded bliss?

Vows are for the days of married life when life is tough…
when the worst days have come;
when we’re poorer than we want to be;
when sickness strikes and stretches us thin and caring is hard;
when we’re not loving or loved, much less cherishing or cherished.

Those vows make marriage a robust place where you can be real and vulnerable, without fear that it could all disappear. They keep love anchored and keep love flickering when storms and winds blow.  Reminding us: “There was a time when I believed the dream of us…”  We lean hard into the promise we made. Some days are just about the will to love, and the humility to know we need His help to do it.  And we had some of those days, sometimes seasons.

But, a day will come when those five words come true. Death parts us. We no longer get to keep our vows, no matter how much we want to keep loving. Instead, it is time to escort our love all the way to the edge of the hardest place.

And, the Lord walked with me every step of the way.

In those days following John’s death, I was incredibly aware that time was of the essence.  In those few days when grief is acute, people are eager to gather together and remember and speak their hearts. It is a window of time that quickly fades. Never again would there be a large gathering to recognize John’s life.

Yet, there was so much to do in so little time. Most of it I had never even thought about.  In the midst of my shock and grief, the Lord gave me focus and strength that still amazes me.

My heart simply wanted to love and honor John to the end, to finish this part of our story well. The Lord guided me through the maze: choosing a cemetery; making hard, painful decisions and plans; writing- an obituary, a program, remembrances; and finding the funeral service John had written the year before. And He kept bringing the right people forward to make it all happen. The helpers just kept on coming.

And together we celebrated the gift of John’s life,
and it was hard, but it was beautiful.

God gave me grace to keep walking with John to the edge of the hardest place. Love made me brave, and God helped me breathe. And, then it was over.  It was time to leave that place, but I didn’t leave with empty hands or heart. I took our riches with me: years filled with love and joy, four children whom love made real, and a God who has been there since the beginning of us.

And He is still here. Over and over again in the Bible He reassures us that He will never leave us. He says it often because we just can’t hear it often enough and because one day it will be the most important thing to remember.  No one else can make us that promise. And no one else can keep it.

May you be blessed with deepening love no matter where your vows take you. I am praying for your love to flourish.

 

 

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