Brokenness Doesn’t Define You

I wake up every day surrounded by broken pieces of a life I used to know. It isn’t a novelty. After four years, I am familiar with this unexpected life that greets me each day.

I am not alone. If you’re an adult, you know brokenness- maybe in yourself or in someone you love. I hope it isn’t the first thing you are aware of each day.

But it might be.

The reality is that childhood’s broken toys give way to an adult life where the stakes are higher. Broken things are the least of our worries. Instead, we encounter a world full of broken dreams, hearts, bodies, and relationships.

As I have recently wrestled with my own brokenness, the Lord showed me something beautiful and hopeful and transforming: my brokenness does not define me. 

I will say it again, just for you: your brokenness does not define you. 

Our brokenness can only have as much power over us as we give it.

It is a demanding tyrant. We can feel hopeless and helpless as we survey the pieces. There is no way back to the life we had before. It all seems impossible, or at least impossibly complicated. Depression, anxiety, anger, shame, self-absorption all clamor to flood in.

Sadly, our brokenness can often distance us from the One who can help us. The One who loves us in the midst of our broken, ruined lives. The One whose body was broken so we could be made whole.

Nothing is beyond His ability to heal, restore, or transform. We see God’s love for us poignantly at work through Jesus’s life of ministry to broken people. Never did Jesus say someone’s brokenness exceeded His ability to help and heal. There were no lost causes.

God is bigger than whatever is broken in your life. When Jesus gave His life for ours, He covered all the brokenness this world could ever generate.

When He enters our lives, He trades us: beauty for the ashes, joy for the sorrow, praise for the despair. He tells us that He alone defines us. Our identity is as His deeply loved child.

Several years ago, shortly after John had died, my children went to a camp for kids who had lost a close family member. Many of the activities were designed to work them through different aspects of grief. One day they were each given a terra cotta pot and told to go outside and hurl it onto the pavement.

Shattered shards of pottery surrounded them. I watched them from a distance. It is how our lives felt: whole one minute, shattered the next.

They were given bags to carefully gather the pieces. Then, they were told to write on each piece something they loved about the person they had lost. Next, it was time to try to glue the pots back together. It was painstaking. Nothing fit right.

But, hours later they were done. The haphazard shapes didn’t resemble the previous pots. Yet, each pot was transformed when the lights were out because candles had been nestled within them.

In fact, they were beautiful. They shimmered forth more light than ever before because the cracks, the broken places, were the very spots where the light could shine.

It was a holy moment when the room was filled with their glow. Brokenness transformed.

As a widow, I can feel like I will always be broken and diminished by my loss. It is tempting to believe my life will always have less joy, less fullness, less purpose, less meaning, less peace. I can feel resigned to a second-rate, broken life and future.

But, it isn’t true, and I am beginning to deeply believe it. His grace and abundance is big enough for even this. For even you and your story.  Our circumstances don’t exempt His promises.

They don’t get to have that much power.

Jesus Christ promises us true fullness of life. His love for us brings peace and hope and purpose and joy. He fills us with love to share and kindnesses to give and praises to proclaim and people to bless with the overflowing love He has given us.

Brokenness is not the end, nor the final word. Instead, in the gentle hands of God’s redemptive love, it can be the beginning of a new kind of beautiful.

believing more beauty & joy are yet to come,
because His love wins,
Mariaimg_0242

 

When Joy Seems Impossible: A Wedding Surprise

The summer of 2016 is now in the Carroll family record book:
2 graduations,
1 wedding,
3 wedding showers,
1 girl’s month long journey to Bolivia,
4 birthdays,
2 vacations,
3 girls packed and moved to 3 different places
and the grand finale: my son’s baptism!
All of this was just within our little family of five (now six with my new son-in-law!)

Our parents 50th wedding anniversaries were bookends to this amazing collection: one in April, one this past weekend.

So if you’ve been wondering where I have been, now you know. I have been living faster than I could write.

It was stunning to have so many of life’s poignant moments condensed into such a short time. It was also challenging to have one event after another where John’s absence was so conspicuous. Missing him became a familiar, frequent emotion again.

The moment with the greatest heart tug was obvious: at my oldest daughter’s wedding. Not having him here to walk our daughter down the aisle was a hard reality to accept. Like most families, John and our girls had talked about that moment since the girls were little. He took his future responsibility seriously, and the girls knew they’d have his strong arm to lean on in the midst of their joyful days.

We all knew there was no way around it. That moment in the ceremony would be teary. Full of if-onlys. We hoped that we’d get all of our tears out at the dress rehearsal.

But, we underestimated God’s ability to bring grace even to the hardest places. Those hopeless places we think are impossible for Him to touch with wonder and surprise and grace.

Shortly after being engaged, our daughter asked her almost 15 year old brother to take his dad’s place. He agreed, even though it was a little intimidating to be in the spotlight. Walking a gorgeous young woman in a beautiful, white gown with 250 people watching you is a big job, even if she is your sister.

Finally, the day arrived for the wedding, which was held in the garden of an historic home. The moment had come for them to walk down the aisle.  The two of them paused at the back of the garden, to allow the music to begin and the guests to stand.

At that moment an unexpected mishap occurred! The haircomb holding her veil slipped out, and her veil became unattached! As she walked forward, it floated to the ground!

Just a second before all of the guests turned to look in her direction, I turned first and saw the wedding coordinator roll up the veil and quickly hold his hands behind his back- a very professional, smooth move!

Stunned, I looked at my daughter; she was keeping her composure. “Oh well,” I thought,”there is nothing I can do about it now. We’ll just put it back on for the photos.”

As my daughter gracefully walked by my aisle, she gave me an ever so slight shake of her head. The expression in her eyes told me,”Don’t worry about it.”

She and her brother reached the front of the ceremony site and stood side by side as our pastor welcomed everyone and prayed. Then, it was my turn to come forward and stand beside her so that I could answer the question: “Who gives this woman away?”

As I walked up beside her, she turned to me and quietly asked,”Mom, will you please put on my veil?”

All at once, I knew we were in the midst of a holy moment. More precious than I had ever expected to have in this moment, on this day. Peace and confidence settled over me. I knew I was being given a gift.

Calmly, purposefully, I turned and walked down the aisle to retrieve the veil from the wedding coordinator, who still stood at the back of the garden with it behind his back. With it gently in hand, I walked back and tucked the veil’s comb into the back of her hair. Then, I took my time getting the veil arranged over her gown, alongside her face and each of her shoulders. I savored the moments.

I knew those were my last official moments as her momma. And they were beautiful.

For twenty two years John and I had loved and raised and prepared her for life. Now she was ready. I truly felt like I was putting the finishing touches on those twenty two years as I arranged her veil…presenting her to her new husband and to the Lord.

And, then I stood by her side. Her radiant smile of thanks was her confident goodbye to me.

“Who gives this woman to be married?” I heard our pastor ask.

“I do, and her father, John, would be delighted.” I said loud enough for all to hear.

And, then a kiss on the cheek and twenty-two years of being her momma were over. My job was done.

I sat down. Amazed. Stunned. What had just happened? The moment I had dreaded most, we had dreaded most, didn’t happen. The veil distracted us all and instead, I had been given one of the most precious, meaningful moments of my life. Truly, I will treasure it forever.

Grace. Unanticipated, glorious, abundant grace. The Lord surprised us beyond anything we could have imagined!

I keep on learning this lesson in this unexpected journey. His grace will meet me and will meet you every. single. time. Don’t fret. Just trust that those things in the future you dread, those moments you aren’t sure you will be able to get through, know that you can trust Him to meet you there.

The past four and a half years have been full of moments I wasn’t sure I could do alone. This summer they came in droves. And, every time, He surprised me with strength I didn’t know I could have; joy that I didn’t know would find me; peace that was bigger than my problem.

“I will turn their mourning into joy; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:13

As we planned my daughter’s wedding, my hope was that joy would take the day. It did. That evening, my heart was too full of joy for tears to surface. Instead, we danced the night away under a summer sky.

With God all things are possible, even joy.
Maria

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A Fire Hydrant of Joy

I am on a wild ride right now! Within two months we are celebrating my oldest daughter’s college graduation and wedding, my third daughter’s high school graduation, two graduation parties, two of my girls’ birthdays, a few wedding showers, and a final family-of-five trip. Then, we are sending my second daughter to Bolivia for a month, and waving goodbye to the newlyweds as they head to the midwest (the day after they get back from their honeymoon).

All of this in exactly two months.

It is like trying to drink from a fire hydrant of joy! So many joys to savor in such a short time.

People ask me how I am doing it. Here’s the short answer: not alone.

Earlier in the spring I could feel my stress-level rising as I saw the calendar looming. Over the last four years I have learned to pay attention to the feeling.

It is my yield sign.

Nothing good happens if I ignore the stress and stubbornly plow forward.

Slow down. Go somewhere quiet. Unburden it all to the Lord. That is how I’ve learned to respond when life begins to overwhelm me.

A Jesus Calling devotional sums it up well: “When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me. Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me. I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it. In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me.” (June 7)

So, on that early spring morning two months ago, I did just that. It has become a familiar response now that I don’t have John to absorb my stress overflow.

It has also become a place where I expect to hear from the Lord.

And I did.

As I poured out my looming list of demands, I truly sensed the Lord telling me I didn’t have to do it all. He clearly brought to my mind two areas where I simply needed to ask for help during this crazy season.

Two areas that I was stubbornly digging in my frugal heels: my yard and my house.

I am the only one who can cut our yard in the spring due to my kids’ allergies. And, consistently keeping our house clean falls to me. My teens aren’t reliable help at the end of the school year when demands on their time are high.

Later that morning, I talked to a dear friend who reiterated the Lord’s leading. She said, “Maria, when you wake up the day after the wedding, how are you going to think back over the past two months? Will you have regrets of how you spent your time?”

Tears began to puddle. These are my last two months with my oldest daughter. These are the last two months with all four of my children here. Time with them is golden. And finite.

She also pointed out that my stress level sets the tone in our home. Anything I can do to anticipate the stress and lower it is important for all of us. Setting yourself up for the best chance of things going well is a realistic way to live life.

Such. true. words. My reality: John isn’t here to naturally step in and carry the stress load with me. It is on my shoulders as the only parent. And, it isn’t just his actual physical help with the chores of life.

It is much deeper. Marriage brings stability and strength. You know you aren’t alone. You are in the midst of all of life’s storms and sunny days together. You might be wet and shivering, but you are holding hands as you face the gale.

John isn’t here to hold my hand. He isn’t here to process this season of saying goodbye to our daughter. I want him here for her, and our other children, and for my new son-in-law.

But, I also really want him here for me.

We raised her together for nearly 18 years. I’ve raised her alone for four. We’ve held her close since that little bundle was placed in our arms. Give her away?  I’ve been fully committed to holding her tight.

John & I should be working through this season together. Laughing. List making. Reviewing plans. Remembering her growing up years. Smiling. Celebrating.

Wiping each other’s tears.

Yes, I have friends. Close siblings. I even have my parents. They are all wonderful and supportive. But it isn’t the same.

After four years without John in my life, I have been amazed to experience the Lord stepping into the void John left. He is my strength and comfort and company every day. And it is beautiful.

It is different, but it is truly good and very real.

However, I can still get cocky. I can still be tempted to think I can do it all.

On that spring day, I held up my white flag of surrender.

I am so thankful I did.

For these few months I have help with my yard and house. As any woman knows, knowing your house will be cleaned (all at one time) is a tremendous blessing. Ditto to the harvesting of my crop of waving grass.

It encourages my heart to know that actual real help is headed our way. Those are days where something predictable and orderly happens around here, and those two parts of life get checked off the list. It blesses me.

And, I smile because the Lord was right. I did need help. I didn’t have to do it all.

In our culture it is counter-intuitive to pause and truly surrender, but I hope my story encourages you to turn to the One who knows you best and loves you most. Surrender will be sweet.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy.” Psalm 28:7

there are greater, never-ending joys yet to come…
with love, Maria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter is My Every Day

Death isn’t theoretical for me. It isn’t the thing that “might happen one day…” A possible reality off in the mists of the future. It is in my bed. On my pillow. Everyday. 

The man I lived with every day for nearly 23 years- skin to skin and heart to heart and dream to dream with- is gone. He literally ran straight forward, smack dab into death. And life. All in a few moments on a wooded path.

So, death and I stare each other down every day. I don’t have a choice. There is no avoidance technique big enough to hide it. John has died.

And, every morning, I accept it. Again. Do you want to know the real reason I wake up in our empty bed and face death and find peace?

It isn’t a theory. or an idea. or a comforting religious belief.

It isn’t a technique or a mantra or a transforming app.

It is a person. His name is Jesus Christ. He did for John and for me what no one in all of history has ever done: Jesus said he would face death for us and defeat it. No other person has ever made that claim and lived to tell about it.

Jesus did, and so He has earned my wholehearted faith and trust and confident hope because He died and He lives.

 “Jesus who rescued us from certain doom”1 Thessalonians 1:10 (MSG)

I don’t worry and wonder, “Was John good enough? Did he live a life that earned him eternity?” These questions don’t plague me.

Jesus earned eternity for John. and for me. and for our kids. and for you. He lived the perfect life none of us could ever accomplish, and He let his perfect life be sacrificed for our sake.

He didn’t die on the cross for himself. He died on the cross for us. His death is a gift that He has given to each of us. His life makes us part of God’s family, and like all children, we look up to our Father and want to be like Him. John lived wanting to please His Heavenly Father.

When I wake up in the morning, death is real but its hold is temporary. What I am most aware of is my settled peace and confidence that Jesus is real. His Spirit is with me, and I am reassured that John is safe.

John and I are now living both sides of faith in Christ. Lives that neither of us had ever experienced before March 8. We have both experienced death’s spectrum: on earth and in heaven.

We will have a lot to talk about one day. I hope we get to. Or maybe God’s eternal plan will be so amazing we won’t want to rehash all that has happened. I can only speculate. and wonder. and dream.

We are both living; sustained by Christ’s power and presence.

All I know is what four years have tried and tested in my life: I have faced death and Jesus Christ met me on that night and He hasn’t let me go. His hope and presence and peace and strength and tenderness and reassurance woo me every morning.

Every day is Easter.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…” Hebrews 6:19

 

 

 

 

 

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

Travel Therapy

In the early months after John’s death, I would have a Forrest Gump urge to start walking across the country, never stopping until my toes were in the chilly waters of the Pacific.

Or, I’d daydream about driving, driving, driving across the country on an endless road trip in an endless summer. Chasing that glorious setting sun with windows down, warm air tumbling, odometer clicking forward while my mind & heart were given space and time to heal.

Or I’d imagine a tropical island where I could just walk out of a beach cottage every morning, open my chair, tunnel my toes in the sand, and endlessly watch the waves. Waiting. Waiting for my life to reappear.

Wanderlust is real. Only recently did I begin to understand why I crave it. It has to do with the temporary relief it brings me from my new reality.

My life with John meant that my future had trajectory. It followed his career, his life. By mutual decision, our marriage was traditional, old school: I chose to defer to his life’s direction, and I chose to devote my life to our family and children.

When his job changed, we moved. When money was tight, we chose frugality and squeezed in another job. When his job was stressful or miserable, or both, I prayed and supported him.

Many of you have done life like this, or are doing it now. Marriage is designed to be a beautiful partnership that gives mutual meaning and purpose. Every day. Every year.

March 8, 2012 was a life derailment. The track of my life disappeared. My functions as a mom remained, but that was about it. Every other way I knew life with John vanished into thin air.

It took my breath away.

It also took my purpose and my natural assumptions of my future.

For the past three and a half years, I have been in the painful process of grieving many things, including the fact that my life’s momentum is significantly altered. My primary commitment to loving and raising our children is still in place, but I’ve always known that after they left, my purpose as John’s wife and support was still going to remain.

But that all disappeared when he did.

Now, I find myself not redefining my purpose, but actually seeking it. The Lord is patiently leading me through this confusing maze of options. Moving was a big first step.

In the meantime, I savor those moments when my life gets really defined and streamlined. It happens when I travel. 

When I travel my very vague life becomes defined. There is a point A and a point B and I can see them on a map. Travel reduces and simplifies my life to the bare essentials; I pack my bags with what I really need for life.  All the stuff that is home is left far behind.

Hotels are lovely too- impersonal, yet predictable. No visual clutter to process or feel guilty about (ie. no piles of mail, bills, laundry, dishes, yard, the undone to-do list etc). In fact, I am an “out of sight, out of mind” girl. When I leave home, I am completely absorbed in the new places I am landing.

And, then there is the rental car (on trips that don’t rely on public transportation). Ahhh! A perfectly clean car, new and reliable. Someone else has made sure the oil is changed, the tires are inflated, the alignment spot on, the systems all go. Of course, on my most recent trip, I didn’t even know how to start the car so sometimes the cars are too new!

It is really quite delightful. Blissful, in fact. 

And, I love knowing that for a few days, my life’s trajectory is defined and knowable.

And, I love how travel gives me a confidence-boosting field trip, even when it pushes me beyond my comfort zone: I can take my children to new places. We don’t have to live subdued by our story and cowering without John. We can go boldly forward into life knowing that the Lord loves us still, and He goes with us. Nowhere we could ever go takes us out of His presence.

Besides, there is an incredible, beautiful planet He has made that I truly believe He enjoys us seeing and praising Him along the way. Sometimes it embarrasses my kids if I want to belt out the doxology under Natural Bridge or exclaim a little too loudly over the glory of the skies when we fly. But, it makes us all laugh and we make memories together that knit our hearts closer.

We see the world anew with fresh perspective. It is all His.

And, it doesn’t escape me that Jesus was a traveler. Always moving. Always on the go. And, his final command to us begins with “Go into all the world…” Going into all the world requires faith, just as much then as it does now. Will He get me there? Will He be with me, even there? How will He suprise me along the way? Will He bring me home?

The act of going is my faith exercising.

Life is beautiful spent traveling with Him, the ultimate tour guide. And, one day there will be an even more spectacular, glorious place for the Lord to show me: our forever home.

Until then, I savor those respites when I get glimpses of His creative beauty and my life makes sense. They have made me wonder for heaven and given me sweet days of grace.

At home but never for too long, please-

Maria

Goodbye & Hello

It has been three weeks since I walked out of our house for the final time.

John and I never intended to move. We thought we’d grow old together there. I knew which room would be a nursery for our grandchildren. I could see the house full of our kids-turned-adults and their families.

They’d come charging through the back door with smiles, hugs, and news to share. They’d make us laugh and we’d treasure it all: crying babies, piles of dishes, fast paced conversations, and a pause in the chaos as we all bowed our heads and prayed- that would be the only moment when stillness & quiet would reign.

We’d laugh when they left. We’d be exhausted but happy, with a mixture of love, relief, wistfulness, and concern (because there’d always be someone we were concerned about).

I can see it so clearly. I wanted that beautiful life. I still do, but it isn’t going to happen. At least not like that and not in that house.

It is going to look different in ways I can’t even imagine now.

When John died I knew that moving was inevitable. He always said that if something happened to him, I needed to put a for-sale sign in the yard because the house was too much to manage on my own. It was true.

I also knew that I couldn’t move forward in my life until the big job of moving was done. How could I take on new things when there was such an obvious, huge task to accomplish?

But, moving is a wish. It isn’t something you can make happen on your own. Things that you can’t control have to fall into place. In the last few months, the Lord cleared the way and everything came together. The timing was perfect: the move was during the summer when my kids could help. I needed them. We could work and process the move together.

It’s weird, but moving reminds me of labor. I always had this crazy moment in the midst of labor when I’d look at John and say, “I don’t think I want to do this today. Let’s go home. I changed my mind. I am not ready.”

But there was no going back. : ) And, besides, there was a baby I was eager to meet.

This summer I felt like this about our move. Some days it felt like too much work. I wondered what I was thinking to take on a job so big without John.

But, then I would remember how the Lord had helped me find our new home, and how much I liked it, and how great our new neighbors were going to be, and how much I really wanted a new setting.

And I would keep plugging along. Hope as fuel.

On August 20, a sunny summer Thursday morning, the Lord gave me courage to walk through that empty house and say goodbye to a dream.

It is one of the holiest moments of my life. It was like I was able to gather all of those beautiful years with John in that home and hold them tightly one last time where they actually happened.

It was a parting gift the Lord gave me.

The reality of why it was time to move settled over me. It was a beautiful life that we had there together, but the truth is that John isn’t there anymore. And so I can’t have that life anymore. No matter how long I lived there, the life we led there has ended.

And I just don’t want to be there without him.

It was time for a new stage to be set where there was space for new dreams, instead of a constant awareness that we were never going to get back to the way things were.

The day after the move was over, I found this verse. “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” Isaiah 26:12

That is how I feel. We did it because He made it happen. He has helped me do one of the hardest things set before me. Again.

You too will get the strength and courage you need, when you need it. Even though it seems impossible to imagine now. The Lord will be your hope and fuel.

And to many of you, thank you for the many prayers, encouragement, and help as we took this step forward.

Settling in & feeling amazed,

Maria

Brave (Enough)

Last fall, a friend told me she was writing a book and asked if she could tell a little of our story. I said yes. Then, she told me her vision for her book went even further. She was creating a companion DVD to accompany the book and wanted to have interviews of women’s stories for each chapter.

She wanted me to do that too. (It was starting to get a little more intimidating.) With a little self-conscious reluctance, I agreed.

Here we are 9 months later and Nicole’s hard work is a reality: Brave Enough was just released! Click this link to check it out (or better yet, buy it!).

Nicole Unice is on staff as a ministry director at Hope Church. She is incredibly energetic and passionate about helping people deepen in their relationship with God. A few months after my family had been at Hope, we met in her office because I was trying to figure out if there was anyone else like me in our church: a widowed, single mom.

She listened quietly as I stumbled through our story. She asked gentle questions along the way as only a seasoned counselor can do. I could tell she has heard many people’s hard stories. She steadily listened. I left her office feeling refreshed and encouraged.

She is the real deal: wise, insightful, and authentic. She helps you see your issues honestly and shows you where your issues and God’s word overlap.

And you can tell she believes that you can make progress with your issues.  Anger, anxiety, regret, insecurity, control, fear, bitterness. These are just a few of the realities we all encounter in life. Left to simmer and grow they can wreak havoc in our relationships, minds, bodies and souls.

Many times we feel like we just have to learn how to live with them.

God doesn’t want us to. Jesus said He came to bring us freedom in every area of our lives. He actually calls it abundant life! (not to be confused with abundant stuff or prosperity) His freedom is richer, deeper and eternal- it is abundant soul life.

Nicole truly believes him.

The only problem with Nicole is that there is only one of her. I wish every woman I know could sit down and have a heart to heart with her. I wish I could spend more time with her too.

But there is good news! Nicole has multiplied herself through her books: She’s Got Issues and this newest one, Brave Enough. Honestly, I tell women that reading those books is like meeting with Nicole personally. Read them both and I am confident you will feel hopeful.

There are lots of books out there that restate what many of us already know. Nicole’s books go to deeper places. They have helped me understand (some not so pretty realities) about myself while giving me hope that I can change with God’s loving help.

But you’re going to have to be brave to believe God is big enough for your life.  Me too.

When John died, being brave became my new daily life. It didn’t matter that I had struggled with fear for years or that I relied on John to be brave for me.

It was time to be breathe and live brave.

  • Brave enough to believe I can be who God has now called me to be in this new identity as a widow & single mom.
  • Brave enough to believe that I can do what God has called me to do no matter how hard, lonely or confusing.

And so, with no bravery of my own, just belief that God would be everything He promises, I set out on this unexpected journey. I haven’t been perfectly brave. Yet, He has made me brave in some of the hardest, scariest places.

He will do the same for you on your life’s journey.

Disappointing marriages. Concerns about your kids. Job frustrations. Money problems. Ailing bodies. Adjustments to new seasons in life. We need daily brave.

Jesus will meet you at the intersection of faith and fear with His love and courage. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

You don’t have to do it perfectly. He did that for you. You just have to “take heart” and be brave (enough).

Nicole, thanks for pointing the way and cheering us on!

With much love & belief that He will strengthen where my courage wanes, Maria

PS If you are looking for a small group study, Brave Enough has a small group bundle with dvd and books. Click here to find it on her site. It would be awesome to do with a group! I hope to be leading a study this fall too! 🙂

PPS If you comment on this blog or click the like button, you will be entered to win a free copy of Brave Enough! The drawing will be on this Wednesday, July 29 at 5:00 (our 26th wedding anniversary!). Free is always fun!