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,

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,




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-


Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving to You & Your Families!

I am thankful for you new friends. I know some of you but many of you are new to me this Thanksgiving. Your geography is vast- all over the world, which means turkey and cranberries and family may not be part of your day. But, whoever you are and wherever you are, I am grateful for you. Thank you for stopping by here the past few months. It is encouraging to know there are people reading. You are the new additions to my list of things to be thankful for this year. Consider yourself hugged.

We are a family of two Thanksgiving meals: lunch with my family and dinner with John’s. It is a full day, and we end up with very full tummies and many hugs. It is the love around both tables that makes the day.

Last year I posted this Thanksgiving note on my facebook page. It was our second Thanksgiving since John’s death.

“Two little things to share with you FB friends this Thanksgiving:

1. Last Thanksgiving I was holding my breath because it was the first year. This year I know how to breathe through the holidays. Holidays in year Two are easier simply because I know what this feels like now. I’ve sat alone at the Thanksgiving table before.

But, to let you in on a little secret: as alone as I appear, paradoxically, I am not alone. The life & hope Christ has brought inside of me is bigger than John’s death, and the comfort Christ gives me is bigger than oh-how-I-miss-him emotions.

And, as I made pies this morning I realized that now I celebrate Thanksgiving like one of the original pilgrims. Their first Thanksgiving was sobered by the reality that there were many losses at their celebration. They came to the table with broken hearts. Husbands, wives and children who should have been there celebrating God’s provision were not there. Death had taken them when there was still so much loving, living, learning, establishing, rejoicing, and working to do together.

Yet, like me, their losses didn’t overshadow their trust in God and the story He was choosing to write in their lives.

His love– abundant, personal, intimate & tender, yet also strengthening you like iron;

tucked into your heart and soul and mind wherever you are and wherever you go;

bolstering and buffering when life hits hard- is a love that exceeds any emptiness around my table or yours or theirs.

May your tables be filled with thanksgiving for His love that walks with us over oceans, through dark valleys, and long nights.”

-Maria 2013

And, those words ring true to me today. Again.  Year Three feels older but familiar. The loss is still so fresh. The job of being mom even more daunting.

God is my only hope in this broken place, and I fix my heart and mind on this:

“‘The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

And, so, I am praying for all of you today who are feeling weak, who have loss and brokenness around your table. Maybe it is a person you are missing; maybe it is a relationship that is broken; maybe it is disappointment; maybe it is hard news that you just can’t swallow; maybe it is the weight of all the things in the world that are so wrong. I don’t know. I just know that life can be raw.

May His love be your anchor and may His hope make you strong and brave.

And, may we rejoice too. Because life still has beauty. Life still has blessings. God generously tucks goodness and encouragement into every crevice of our lives and hearts.  May we not lost sight of all the good He gives. We are loved and He shows us everyday. That is why it is good for us to have a day of Thanksgiving together.

May love be the main course wherever you are,




Speaking Honestly about Grief

Grief is a riddle.  What is invisible to everyone else, but you can’t escape? Grief. It is awkward to be a mourner disguised in normalcy.  I think that maybe our culture shouldn’t have discarded the tradition of wearing black during the first few months of mourning. I wouldn’t have minded it because it would have made my pain visible. In the first few months after John died, I thought, “I should be in torn clothing with ashes all over me, maybe even my head shaved so that everyone knows.” For those who are grieving, there is no outward expression of inner pain.  Honestly, it would have been a gift and a relief.

So, you shop at Target and go to Lowe’s and push your cart through Kroger, but you feel awkward, dishonest, and hypocritical. “I am not what I appear.” And, then there is the awkwardness of seeing people who don’t know yet or people who stumble onto your loss because they’ve asked the right combination of questions. It isn’t their fault. There is no way to know. No physical sign of distress.

I went through a stage of nervously laughing- painfully inappropriate laughter- because I knew that I was going to drop the Death-bomb on the conversation. “Um…our family has been through a very…uh… painful time recently…” I would stammer, trying to give gentle cues to the person who stumbled into the most. painful. place.

And, for the truest of my confessions: I have hidden from people who might ask. Pretended I didn’t see them.  Turned and walked away or out. Some days I just couldn’t say those awful words out loud. Frankly, I didn’t want to burden them either. I was sparing all of us pain.

In the early days of grief it is all so exhausting.

I wondered if I would ever feel whole again. I couldn’t imagine that I ever would.  And, I had no idea how to get there.

But, what I have learned is that healing from grief is similar to the body’s healing process. After each of our children were born I was doubtful that I would ever feel normal again. But, it happened. Hour by hour, day by day. Slowly, but surely, tissues were mending, muscles were repairing, strength was regaining. And, one unassuming day, months after the baby was born, I marveled that my body felt like it had recovered.  Was it fully restored to its pre-pregnancy state?  Nope. Things were never the same, but, everything was healed.

That is what I feel like now. I think back to how I felt in the first few months after John died or even how I felt a year ago, and I know that healing has happened.  I don’t know what day. There wasn’t a turning point.  I will never be the same, but I am not in pain like I was. Gradually, my mind has settled into this new normal.  My body doesn’t feel raw inside. My soul feels strong and resilient.  Love for John hasn’t lessened, but the shock and reality of his death have stopped reverberating in my mind, body, and soul.

I really want to encourage people that the pain, shock and sorrow they may feel today will soften in time. The jagged edges of grief do smooth. You will smile again and you won’t feel guilty. You will notice beauty and enjoy simple pleasures. You will have hope in your heart. It is a journey, but you will get there.

Hope has been the biggest gamechanger for my grief. Jesus gave me hope when He bought it for me with His life.  He tells me: John is safe with Him, and we are safe with Him.  For now we are living in two different places, but God is with us all, and one day we will be reunited.  This hope is like the whisper a child longs to hear in a dark place, “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I have a bright light.”  God is our brightest light in this dark place, and it is taming and calming grief.

Many of you may live with invisible pain. I understand that the grief of death isn’t the only grief people carry. If you are carrying the burden of grief-visible or invisible- Jesus sees it all, and He wants to give you rest.  “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

May He continually whisper peace and hope to your heart.

loving Him for walking with me through grief,

A Story with a Different Ending

Jay and Katherine Wolf are on the other side of our story. In 2008 Katherine had a catastrophic brain stem stroke, very similar to John’s, but she survived. She was 26 years old and the young mom of a 6 month old baby boy. Their story is heartbreaking and inspiring. Jay’s commitment to love and Katherine’s willingness to persevere through suffering are simply stunning.

“Through some of the darkest storms this broken world has to offer, we have experienced a God of love and redemption and hope.”

And, here, on the other side of the country, but on the other side of the same story, I am experiencing the same living hope.

Jesus, we love you for giving us hope that is so big and so powerful and so real that we can’t take it all in. It just keeps unfolding…we live expectantly each day to see how your love will sustain us and lead us on.

In His Healing Hope,

Jay & Katherine’s site, Hope Heals http://www.hopeheals.com/our-story  This link will take you directly to their story. Don’t miss the video, you have to scroll down a little bit.  Guaranteed to inspire…

Grace & Grief Meet

Over the next few days,  we pieced together what had happened to John. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, and he stopped by the university on his way home to go for a run.  Security camera videos show him walking out of the gym into brilliant afternoon sunlight.

Several people saw him on the jogging trails, and he appeared to be fine.  But, at the top of a hill he collapsed.  Within moments he was found by a law student. She told John she was going for help.

He didn’t respond.

Initially, she didn’t know who he was because he was face down.  She recognized him when another passerby helped her turn him over and begin CPR.  As more people came and emergency personnel arrived, she tried to tell them John’s identity, but they were distracted.

Despite many attempts by two different emergency crews, they were never able to resuscitate him, nor did they know his name.  John was taken to a local hospital as John Doe.

For several hours, the university police continued to try to identify him but without success.  It wasn’t until John’s father showed up on campus trying to retrace his steps that his identity was discovered.

But the Lord’s grace was in all of the confusion and miscommunication.

If John’s identity had been known, the police would have come to our home, where three of our children were alone. I will always be thankful to the Lord for sparing our children the added trauma of having policemen knock at our front door; everyone anxiously waiting as they tried to locate me.

Also, the reality is that John could have died at home with us. I am grateful that he didn’t. The Lord pulled a cloak of privacy around that moment.  We don’t have to live with those images in our hearts and minds. For our children, their lasting image is our family breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast that morning. For me, it is kissing him at the door, watching him walk to his car, and feeling prompted to pray him.

I am comforted to know that John wasn’t alone on the trail when he died. The young woman who found John knew him through a Bible study at the law school- she as a student, he as a professor.

It took two months for the medical examiner to issue his report.  His autopsy stated that John died of a subarachnoid hemorrhage in his brain- a severe brain bleed- more than likely due to an aneurysm.   He died within moments of collapsing.

The day after he died we all went to the path…

wife, daughters, son,

mother, father, sisters

in-laws, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law,

nieces, nephews,


We walked the route he had run: down sidewalks, over bridges, up a gravel hill. We held bright spring bouquets because I just couldn’t come to that spot empty-handed.  Our love and life were too beautiful, too precious.

And I knew we were on holy, holy ground.  Our eyes couldn’t see it but the portal between heaven and earth was there, like the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia. John’s body may have collapsed, but I know his soul kept running. Straight into heaven. Straight into his Heavenly Father’s presence.

And we sang the song that was rising from my heart:

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord. Wait on the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait on the Lord. Yes, wait on the Lord.” from Psalm 27

And for 31 months, I have seen the Lord’s goodness. He has given me strength to do things I never thought I’d have to do. He has given me courage to live a life I never expected. His goodness keeps showing up. We haven’t had to wait.