Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Christmas. I have always loved Christmas. Who doesn't? I suppose some.

This day was so monumental for me. My girls and I were home all day, just the three of us. Last year, I could not even comprehend what my husband's death could mean. I was so incapable of processing the whole thing… I just closed my eyes, hung onto the rail for dear life, and hoped I'd wake up at the end of the long, terrible roller-coaster ride. This year, I worked hard. I studied it with my GriefShare group and my counsellor. I made notes, planned ahead, made some big decisions about what me and my family could handle… This year, I was just a tad bit more prepared. 

What always takes me off guard, though, is the sense that grief doesn't belong at Christmas. The idea of coming together to fellowship over food and gifts and lights and decor… the ideals of a glorious festival, these things I love. This is how I grew up celebrating Christmas. More gifts than we could ever afford, more food than we could ever eat, and more fellowship than we could ever handle…! It reveals what I have come to believe is our cultures greatest weakness. Our inability to grieve. 

Catastrophic loss is all-comsuming. It involves the loss of person, and compounded losses of other kinds… Ideas from ones childhood. Beliefs about life, the Christian life, family, and ministry… But I have gained so much. Through loss we gain so much. This is an established principle for the life experience of the disciple. We lose our life to find it. We are blessed when we are broken. We are strong when we are weak. There is a season for everything. 

And the King of Kings came into this world as humble baby, wrapped in cloths for an impending burial, and laying in a manger…

I just want to say that I feel immeasurably blessed to have learned the greatest truth about life. That we lose when we gain. That my weakness, under the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit, amounts to great strength and unprecedented life change. 

As Jesus was born into the lowliest of places, so he is born in me. I am His dwelling place. And in me, (and all who look to Him), He is birthing something new. For the first time in these last 15 months and 23 days, I can see the light at the edge of the horizon. I have been plunging East, refined in the fire of death, grief, and difficult steadfastness. As we celebrate Christ's birth, as my life remains surrendered into His most tender care, I am beginning to witness the sunrise, as it is just nigh approaching, as the glittering streams of brilliant light, the golden streaks and pink promises peek out above the dark shadow of the earth... 

Be born in me, my Savior, in the most lowly of places. In the place of humility, brokenness, mourning, and weakness, break forth like the dawn. For behold, You are doing a new thing. Will I not perceive it? You will make streams in the deserts and waters in the wilderness. You bring peace and order in my heart and life. You will break forth in glorious light upon this humble servant… 

Lead me, Father. Lead me in the Way Everlasting.    

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A "merry" Christmas

Winter Grief, Sumer Grace, by James E. Miller, page 25:

Winter can be the cruelest season of the year, 
   cold and dreary, depressing and long.
This can also be true of your grief's winter:
   the air feels raw, days grow tedious, nights go on forever.
The shock and numbness that first shielded you have worn away.
Now you must face had-on what lies all around you:
   all that you miss and all that you fear,
   all your sorrow and all your dread. 
There can be a piercing loneliness to winter grief. 
Not only are you separated from the one who died,
   you can also feel isolated from those around you,
   perhaps even alienated from yourself.
People who do not understand how plodding grief can be
   may not be ready to bear all of your moods or all of your moans.
And your world can appear so different,
   so silent, so stark, so empty.
This is exactly the world you need. 

I love this poem, but especially the last line. This season I find myself looking at the world around me with a growing frustration. A growing frustration that feels more like a righteous anger. The lights, the singing, the "joy", the laughter, the parties, the treats…  I love all of these things, but where can I grieve? And where is Christ?

Without berating the issue, I want to say this: I am exactly where I am supposed to be. And the truth is, I am much closer to the lowly scene upon which Christ made his most magnificent entrance into the world… than many of you. I am not weak to grieve. Being broken isn't the same thing as needing fixing. At least not when we are broken unto Christ. I am blessed. I am favoured. I am loved. And I am courageous. And on this Christmas, in the most humble of places, my Jesus dwells with me. 

Be merry, this Christmas. And be humble. For he exalts those who are bowed low.

You will show me the path of life; In Your Presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My 10th Anniversary.

Who could have known that on this day (Dec 19th), my tenth anniversary, that I would be a widow. That the man who balled through our wedding ceremony, who committed his forever to me, who forced me to sign a marriage contract quite specifically bound for 75 years, (at which point, we were then free to re-negotiate)... Who could have known that at that moment, on that day, Sept 2, 2012, around 10:30 at night, a few months shy of our 9th anniversary… Who could have known that he would just… die. At 31 years of age, with no official cause of death... In mere minutes his vibrant, charismatic, and influential life taken, gone from this world. Who could have known?

Today, I look around me… I have two amazing daughters whom I am so honoured and privileged to raise. I learn from them, from who they are… I see Lynn in them. I learn more about him, who he was… We have a beautiful home that is starting to feel like a home… I am learning so much about myself, who I am, who I was, and who I am becoming... I have family that loves me. Friends that are patient with me...

I am so blessed. There's just… no Lynn. No husband. No father of my children. And when I'm not extremely diligent, the emptiness of my loss so easily capitalizes on my weakness and rises above the blessedness of life, overshadowing it with ugliness and despair...

There are memories of Lynn everywhere. Even though I am in a new place, with a new house, some new things, some new people… Lynn is still everywhere. I used to think there was such a fine line between past and present, like my mind could slip into the past so easily, losing sight of the present, later having to struggle to find my way back… But now I think there is no line. Time is an amazing thing. We move forward, but life in the past is never left there. It is a part of us. Who we are in the present. Who we are becoming…

Lately, I hear the echo in my spirit over and over again of this long told Scripture, This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).  No matter what has happened or is happening or will happen, all of it effects me, but my grounding is in Today. That this day the Lord has made. And for that fact and that fact only I will rejoice and be glad. I come to him NOW in this day with all that I was, all that I am, and all that I will be. This day, in Him, I am perfect. I am whole and complete. I lack nothing.

Life is a mysterious thing. Where it comes from, what it means, when and how it will end, and then what follows… I can not rationally come up with a good reason to live again after death. When I wake up in the morning and my kids are either still asleep or have already woken each other up and begun playing… I lay there. Trying to convince myself to get up and start the day. But why? I freeze beneath the weight of that question. Why? Why get up and live when in an instant it can all disappear? Why get up when there is little meaning to this life without my loved one. Why get up when I know the suffering that this life holds. It tricks us into thinking we can gain, gain, gain, and not have to face the rhythms of life and death, ebb and flow, joy and sorrow, gain and loss…

I get up because, This is the day that the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it. 

Dec 19th, was my 10th anniversary. Accept it wasn't. In truth, we didn't even make it to 9 full years of marriage… But still it was this day, 10 years ago, that we beautified ourselves, prepared our hearts, minds, bodies, joined together as one, vowed and committed a lifetime to each other…

I remember everything. Almost every minute of that day… I was aware of every passing moment, each event that took place, as the hours passed throughout the day. I relived what once was as the time ticked by… But yet, this day (the 19th, 2013), is just a day. My wedding was one moment that once was and is now gone. My marriage was something more. Our oneness something even better still...

Life and death. Ebb and flow. Joy and Sorrow. Gain and Loss.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A year of jubilee.

A new chapter. A new decade. Thirty, flirty, and thriving… (Okay, just kidding! Line taken from "13 Going on 30".)

Father, I commit this day, this moment, this week, this month, this holiday season, this year, even this decade… I commit my way unto the Lord, and trust also in Him, with confidence that He will do it. (Psalm 37:5, paraphrased)

As I evaluate my life, my heart, my strengths and my weaknesses… I find myself greatly lacking. I lack in peace. I lack in faith. I lack in assurance and confidence to do His will. I lack self-control, knowledge, and wisdom… In these areas, I find myself weak. And yet, God looks on me and finds me faithful. He has given me His name. He has given me His Word. He has given me His Spirit, with every spiritual blessing under heaven (Eph 1:3). A heavenly armour to conquer against the enemy. And a divine purpose with which to live. He has bestowed me with favour and honour in a kingdom that sees not as the world sees, but looks to the heart. For God is looking for those who are broken vessels. He is looking for a house in which He might dwell. He looks to and fro to find for Himself one who is humble and contrite in spirit, and one who trembles at His word. (Is 66:2)

I find in these ways, that perhaps I might be just what He is looking for. Perhaps He does look on me and find me blessed. Perhaps instead of lacking, I am overflowing with abundance. Because blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. (Matt 5:3)

I find that I am entering this new decade with a new mind. It was a gift :) My friends prayed for me and we took off some of my broken thought patterns that inhibited healing in my grief. Areas of mine and Lynn's life in which I could not accept peace. But was ruled by fear and guilt. My peace came when I could relinquish my perspective and take on a new mind. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5)

A new chapter. A new decade. A new life, but not without the old. I do not move on forgetting what was. I am overwhelmed by how Lynn remains to impact my present and my future… But peace. I must have peace to enter this new chapter. To accept what was and now is. To trust in the Lord and do good; to dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. To delight myself in the Lord, and he will give me the desires of my heart… (Psalm 37:3-4)

Father, I have laid all my fears at your feet. I have surrendered my concerns, ambitions, and desires… I desire your will above my own. I desire fruitfulness and peace. I desire one thing and one thing only, To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple... (Psalm 27:4)

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; For he hath clothed me with garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. For as the garden causes the things that are sown to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. (Is 61:10-11)

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Cold December.

My desk :) I am sitting at my new desk… Well, new to me! My cousins Janel and Steven got it for me as an early Christmas gift. Having a place to sit and write feels luxurious and wonderfully empowering!

Life is full of these little gifts, that come up alongside great agony, involuntarily putting a smile on my otherwise sullen face. December is like that. Many gifts. Lots of smiles. And cold winds that brush up against great agony, often causing an involuntary response… Sometimes laughter. Sometimes tears. Sometimes just unspoken pain.

I have learned and agonized over many terrible truths these last few months. Sometimes, I think it is just so cruel that I am facing all of these "truths" just shy of 30 years old. I was 28 when my husband died. It seemed young before, but now even more so.  When I look at others my age, I grieve my innocence. I wish I could be carefree like them. I wish I still thought learning how to balance all the good things in life was the greatest evil I would ever face.

I miss my friends in Truro this Christmas season. Soooooo much. So many times I have tried to write letters, explain my decisions, portray my heart to you in a clear and understandable way. But every time, I get overwhelmed with emotion, and sometimes despair. There is no easy, clear, rational explanation for what has transpired in our lives and relationships. The reality just is, that I am devastated. That I am a wreck. That I have lost everything. And that I grieve.

I am learning more and more about grieving in our society, right now through another book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W. James and Russell Friedman. I am so angry at the how difficult everything is. If our society was better equipped to handle loss, if I had been better prepared to handle Lynn's sudden death, more emotionally mature… Then maybe, just maybe, it would be a little easier. It wouldn't feel so impossible to understand one another, to share with close family and friends, to lean on loved ones… But it is so hard. And every griever knows it. As my sweet Aunt said last night, Nobody wants to join this club. But unless you're in it, you just don't get it. But we don't want them to get it. It's just too terrible. 

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. I am trying so hard to be positive. I am trying so hard to be kind and gracious and full of God's love. But I am angry. I am so so sad. I am devastated. It just gets heavier and heavier.

I am learning that forgiveness is a HUGE part of working through grief. Forgiving loved ones, forgiving the deceased, and embracing forgiveness for yourself. I find this hard. I find it hard to feel like life is so out of my control. That I can't fix anything. That I am so at the mercy of God's grace. That I can't talk to Lynn and beg his forgiveness for not being a good enough wife. That I can't change this terrible thing that happened so that Lynn and I get to grow old together, and learn more about each other, maturing together, figuring life out... In my head, I know it is all nonsense. But another thing I am learning, is that Grief is not a head matter.

In most cases, North Americans have a habit of converting their feelings into intellect. This does not work in grief. Grief is an EMOTIONAL MESS. It is an emotional response to loss. There is no rationale. There is no appropriate way to understand or experience it intellectually. This is precisely why so many grievers end up isolating themselves. Because loved ones try to be there for them by converting the emotional experience into intellect, as though we could rationalize the pain away. With Bible verses, myths about grief and "moving on", etc… This inevitably leads the griever to believe that their feelings are not acceptable, so they must keep them private and grieve alone.

I am shaking in my boots knowing that I am 1 day away from turning 30, entering a new decade, one more milestone that shuts Lynn away as part of my past. I am 10 days away from facing our 10th anniversary alone, and opening the time capsule we sealed after we were married. I am terrified of another Christmas. Last year was AWFUL, but I couldn't even conceive of what was happening. I had no way of preparing for it or knowing how to handle it. So I just gritted my teeth, dug my nails in, and hung on for dear life, hoping to make it to the other side. This one is different. I am more cognitively aware of Lynn's death and absence, and I have to find creative ways to remember him, to acknowledge him, to honour him this season…

I went to a Remembrance Service last night at my church. It was lovely (…apart form the very hokey music that Lynn would have HATED!!!). But I was unable to go up to the front, to light the candle and say aloud, This is in memory of my beloved husband, Lynn Robert Erskine, who died 15 months ago, father to Roya and Alea. I couldn't do it. Maybe next year. But it was good. It is so good that they have services for grievers to find a safe place to remember… "Aunt" Wendy gave me a candle to take home and kept it lit all night long. (It was a battery operated fire-less candle with Lynn's name written on it.)

Okay, Father. We're still on this journey. I'm so tired. I'm so sad. I can barely find the strength to open my eyes each morning. But I know you're with me. I know I'm in Your hands. I know You're in control. I see that this path does lead somewhere… Towards healing and wholeness, strength and joy. So go ahead. Be glorified today. You are my Lord. Lead me in the Way Everlasting...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wrestling in the caves.

As "grown-ups" we face many practical decisions in life. Career decisions. Family decisions. Whether to buy this car or that one. To invest here or there. To send our kids to this school or that one…

How do we process our lives in order to make these decisions? There are so many factors. We want to make wise choices. We want the most for our money. We want the best for our kids. We want to do everything society tells us would make us decent, capable adults… But what if God inserts a new factor into your desicion-making? What if He asks you to have faith? What if God asks me to make a decision that goes against what my worldly wisdom says is wise? Something that others might say isn't good parenting? Something people might claim as foolish financially? How do I process those decisions, then, in the light of faith? How do I purify my desires before Him? How do I trust that He'll really take care of me? That He's really Lord? Over all these things? He trumps. If I act in faith… will He prove faithful?

I have continued to wrestle with life decisions. Career decisions. What I want for my finances. What I want for my kids. It is intimidating being a young widow. I knew so little. The overwhelming message I receive from the world is that I have to do what they say. That they know better then me what I should or shouldn't do. That they are the ones with the trump card. That their projected outcome is truth. BUT… God. But God.

All my life I have felt like a Joseph. Someone to whom God says, You are mine, at an early age, but than life happens. How does God's Word make sense when circumstance go awry? Yet those circumstance were God's Potter's hands, carefully purifying and refining the vessel, so the Word He'd put within could be perfectly expressed… unmarred. Not tainted. So God's goodness and glory could be seen without hinder, without defect.

David was anointed King at a young age. I imagine he was thrilled and excited, honoured, maybe a little (or a lot) proud. But how did he feel about it after years of waiting and fighting for the circumstances to line up with His Word? In the caves, as Psalm upon Psalm poured out of His Spirit, God was again using circumstances to refine the vessel for a pure expression of His Word. The Word was alive and active in Him, changing and transforming him, while the hands of God hedged him in, holding him firmly in place on the potter's wheel, perfectly centred, until he willed one will with God the Father…

Neither Joseph or David, or many of these biblical heroes asked for their call. They didn't pursue it. They were chosen. Then, they were left with a choice. To obey or not to obey. To believe or not to believe. To stay on the Potter's wheel, with the sharp pain, the steady pressure of those powerful hands… for years and years and years? Or leave? To leave is… unthinkable. Because no matter how hard life gets… When we know who God is, when His Word is alive within us, we are like Peter. Lord, to whom shall we go? You are the one who has words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

When wrestling in the caves like David, or in the dungeons like Joseph, let faith win. Let God's Word be the trump card that leads you to making one decision or another. And be purified. Be refined. Learn to will one thing, to be one with the Most High God. Seek first His kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you…

For God is good. He does trump. The ways of this world are as grass, blowing to and fro in the wind. But God's Word stands forever, from everlasting to everlasting. Let's believe God. And watch Him be glorified as we are purified.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My brother.

Dear Lynn,

You are so beautiful.

You told me many years ago that you believed you had a spiritual gift of faith. I think you were right. Divine faith was entangled within the intricacies of your inner person, your woundedness, your hopes, your dreams, your beliefs...

As you loved people with exuberant joy and unhindered affection, we were blessed. As you ministered in a steadfastness, an immovable sense of dignity being a son of the Most High God, with a deep assurance and strength, we were changed.

Your depth was a tangled mess of both reverent strength and human weakness. As you laughed and danced and played, you were disciplining yourself to offer every weakness to the Lord, in excellence and surrender, laying them at His feet.

After years of watching the waves beat up against you. When challenges from your childhood impacted your life. When peers accused you of being "fake", whether verbally or in silent suspicion. When your identity was in question and the matter of "call". When you surrendered your dreams and ambitions to serve. When your service was questioned, criticized, and de-valued. You stood firm. In meekness. In strength. Immovable.

Like a stone that has been carefully moulded by the onslaught of opposing waves, so are you in your glorious state. You radiate as one who has stood the test of time, remained faithful through every trial, been refined in the fire and come out as gold…

You are a complicated man, my beloved. Though on earth, you were known for your exuberant praise, in the spirit I see you as pure and refined strength. With an immoveable-ness to your nature. A sober meekness, and humility, as the backdrop to your praise.

You are my brother. And you are free from this time capsule of trial where life and death hang in the balances…

You are beautiful.

I love you,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Lonely Monster.

In those early months after Lynn's death, when the cushioning bubble of shock and denial remained intact, loneliness was like a dark enemy, peering around corners, sneaking toward me in empty hallways. I kept him at arms length, unable to swallow the raw wickedness of his presence. He waited patiently for loss to take over, for reality to set in, to assume his position as dreadful companion, unwelcome yet unavoidable guest…

Being alone is the most terrible, awful, wretched state of existence.

I have been alone for 14 months and 19 days. Not really very long in the grand scheme of things. But I have come to know this loneliness as my worst enemy… and my greatest fear.

Part of the "adjustment" of the bereaved as they "progress" through their grief, is living with the emptiness in their life that was once filled with an individual. That loved one, as a dynamically created human being, took up space in this world that only he/she can fill. At first, the emptiness is all-consuming. All the bereaved can see is death and loss. Sometimes people have said to me, Well, [so and so] lost a spouse and a child. And [so and so] lost all their children. You just need to recognize that your loss isn't that bad. But for the one grieving a loved one, it doesn't matter. To be honest, it doesn't even matter to them that tsunamis have struck and wiped out tens of thousands. They are all-consumed by this massive void that has taken up residence in their lives. It is massively out of proportion. It is irrational. It may even be unfair. But until you know the feeling of a real live person being ripped out of your heart, stolen by death or some other circumstance, you will not understand. And that's ok.

The "progression" of grief is when that all-consuming void slowly but surely gets "put back into perspective". It NEVER goes away because that loved one, in my case Lynn, is NEVER coming back this side of heaven and NO ONE can enter in, touch, feel, or understand the emptiness in his place. This is the cold burning* sensation of grief, the finality of death, the icy-cold-bitter-while-burning-like-hot-coals sensation.

One of the things I HATE most about this loss is that the only person I could share it with is the person missing. I hate that my parents can't understand my loss. I hate that my siblings can't. I hate that even my kids or best friends can't enter into that place with me that only my husband and I shared. No one can go there with me and feel what I feel. Other widows can go there to an extent, but even still, our relationships and individual spouses and marriages are unique. Therefore, our grief is uniquely crafted around all these unique dynamics that no one else could understand but Lynn. Where I once found communion and intimate fellowship, there is a gaping hole, an icy-cold-bitter-while-burning-like-hot-coals sensation… and I HATE it.

I've realized recently that loneliness has been a real challenge for me with my girls (not only personally for obvious reasons). I walked along side them through their grief, hours of screaming, days and months of crying for Daddy, but my daughters cannot reciprocate the favour (not that I ever intended to view motherhood as a favour…). They cannot fathom my own grief, and even though they are my closest family, closest to who Lynn was and who we were together, they cannot go there with me. They are too young. They are just kids. They cannot understand. They don't go easy on me when I'm having a really hard day. They don't bear with me when I just want to talk about Lynn or look at pictures. They want to play and have fun and move on like normal children. This makes me feel even more alone, even more aware of Lynn's absence, and the bitter-cold-burning sensation even more bitter.

Loneliness is something many of us feel (all of us!), from a variety of circumstance. Sometimes in relationships, sometimes in the loss of relationships we've never had the privilege of having… Loneliness is a terrible reality of the Fall. It is evidence of humanity's brokenness, apart from God. It is symptomatic of separation.  As the body needs food and water, the soul needs fellowship and intimate communion. To be without it is like starving.

Misty Edwards sings, I'd rather sit in the house of mourning, than at the table with food. Blessed are the hungry. You said it, I believe it. Hunger is an escort to deeper things of You. You satisfy… (Soul Cry, album Fling Wide)

God's saving grace promises a new fellowship in a redeemed oneness shared with the triune God. This dynamic God is said to satisfy all my needs and desires. For this reason, when I am filled with God's Holy Spirit, I cannot be starving.

Blessed are the hungry… I am lonely, but I am hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Like fasting, I choose to starve my human soul, trusting that God will Open up His hands and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:16)

As the dear pants for streams of water, so my soul longs to be satisfied in the Lord. 

North American Christians always think that if we have faith, we'll be happy. If we claim the promises of God, all our pain will vanish. Loss tells us that though God's promises are real and true, but they fit into a much bigger picture than our own individual happiness. God satisfies me in the Spirit, but that doesn't diminish my human desire for arms that once held me, the companionship Lynn and I had shared, the presence of another person so intimately involved in my life. Two are better than one (Ecc 4:9). This is the truth.

It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen 2:18)

*Lament for a Son

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One step forward, five steps back.

I can barely catch my breath. At 11:00am, a heavy fog persists, laying thick and heavy over the water, enveloping the fields, threatening the roads... Is it the weather? Or my own heaviness that steals my breath away this morning? For I find myself in deep despair, under intense pressure, once again forcing the intake and exhalation of air to and from the lungs, clinging to hope, desperate for mercy...

You would be amazed at all I've done. Not really :) But, I am. I have pursued the possibility of a masters degree, have engaged in job opportunities, have mapped out the next steps in writing my first book(s), made several appointments necessary for both family and financial health... I've agreed to sing on the worship team (occasionally) at my church, have committed to writing monthly for a public writer's blog, and am planning my trip to Bangladesh... MUCH more impressive to me, however, is the fact that I've nailed, wired, measured, and hung mirrors and pictures around the house, I've begun digging through Christmas decorations, in the early stages of setting things up, I've purchased wire, cut down branches, and started stringing up my organic garland around the deck railing, and I still managed to feed my family with homemade soup and biscuits, lots of vitamins, and healthy snacks...

My aunt Susanne recently said to me, There's something different happening. There's a sparkle in your eyes I haven't seen there for a long time. There is more strength to your voice. There's an energy there I haven't seen in years. 

My aunt Susanne is right. I have been unable to capture it in words, the amount of growth and healing that has taken place in me during these Fall months... I am awed and honored that God would heal me, both in soul and in body, after so many years of pain...

Today, though, as I try to catch my breath, as I send my kids off to church without me because I can't scrape my body up off the floor, as I wrestle with feelings of fear and shame, hating weakness, hating that I can't will my body to function... I am humbled by the awkward rhythm of grief. No matter what, it seems to progress with one step forward and five steps back. Even though I am struggling with this never ending battle of overcoming grief, for the first time, I am able to sense a progression. I am able to recognize that even after falling five steps backward, I am still ahead, having grown leaps and bounds since the place on which I started this unwelcome journey... I have a peace that goes deeper than its gone before. I have a thankfulness that is broader than its been before. I have a contentment that stretches much longer than it ever has before... In short, my soul has grown. And I can tell. (*Jerry Sittser)

I feel deep gratitude for this forward motion, humbled by how hard I have worked for it, more humbled that it has all been grace. But, it still does sadden me. The further I move ahead, the harder it is to hold on to the past. The more I step forward into life, into living again, the more I turn away from what was. The more I turn away from what was, the harder it is to close my eyes, to reach into those moments with all five senses, to feel my husband's presence beside me, to hear his laughter, to see his eyes sparkling in delight. The more I move forward, which is the healthy, inevitable choice, the harder it is to remember. And this pains me. I wish I could remember. Everything.

In my GriefShare small group, many of the men and women are discussing their choices regarding Christmas. This is my second Christmas after Lynn's death, but for many of them it is their first. They are older, most of them alone, deciding not to decorate or celebrate in any way, just close their eyes and open them when it's over. One sweet lady, Heather, looked at me and said, But with young kids, you don't have that choice, do you? You have to smile and put up the tree and celebrate whether you want to or not.  The more I am with them, the more aware I am of how awkward it is being widowed young. I don't even fit in with the widows, let alone anyone else. One woman questioned me, It has been over a year since your husband died? And you're just now coming to GriefShare? She was worried she had come too early, with her husband dead just two months now. No, I said, you're not too early if this is your time. It's different with kids. I had to take care of them first. Only now can I try to figure out how to take care of myself... It's just a very different rhythm. 

Today, I am not super woman. I am not all-powerful prophet :) Not that that exists :) I am lowly little me. I yelled at my kids all morning. I drank coffee after coffee trying to wake up. I felt like I disappointed the world by admitting that I couldn't make it to church. I haven't eaten right this morning... in fact I haven't eaten much of anything at all. And I may just lay down and watch Netflix all day...?

Rest is a command of God. A beautiful command. And this is why. I am not supposed to be superwoman. How do I continually forget that?? I am not supposed to handle thing after thing on my own without help. I am not supposed to be all-powerful as though I could attain to some divine characteristic that was not intended to be mine. I am a child. A daughter of the King. It is not based on my performance, it just is. I rest in His grace and His mercy today. I call upon His strength to be revealed in my weakness. I honor Him and praise Him for being my All-Sufficient One.

Today, I am content to be me, right now, in this instant, wherever I am at. Something I have never been before...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A holy grief.

Heart pounding, my feet hit the dirt along the side of the road. Each breath is intentional, rhythmic. In through the nose, out through the mouth. My chest rises and falls and my legs groan with labored movement, begging to be free... I run. My feet keep landing on the ground, but they long to take flight, to lift off, to suddenly find themselves soaring through the air. With every breath, I feel Lynn's presence. I feel one with him, as though I could close my eyes, go back in time, and find myself running beside him.

How do people think this world is all we are, when just beyond our grasp another world is so vibrantly present, alive behind the veil???

These days, my heart is crying out, How long oh Lord!!?? How long will this heaviness remain? How long will this loneliness suffocate? How long will I have to fight for life, with death and despair beckoning at the door??  Like Job, I sit and cry out, Vindicate me, O Lord! Show yourself faithful!! Like Naomi, I cry out embittered, Call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt harshly with me (Ruth 1:20). Like Joseph, I surrender, trusting that God's ways are higher than mine.  Like David, I wait. For I would have lost heart if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13)

Grief is profound. I don't grieve for Lynn as I used to. I grieve because of sin. I grieve because of death, and brokenness, and pain. I grieve because evil has played a role in my existence. I grieve because the woman I am and what this world has to offer falls short. I yearn for a better place. I ache for a new day. I long to sing the song of the redeemed, to hear the praise of many angels, the cheers of witnesses who've gone before. I thirst and hunger after righteousness. I weep and mourn for loss of all things. I cry out for redemption, restoration, and gain.

Sorrow is more profound than depression. Grief is more acute than mental illness. It is the deep cry of the soul for a heavenly kingdom that reigns just beyond our reach. The Holy Spirit within us cries out, Abba Father!!! and reaches forth to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. A spirit that is alive in Christ, but bound to this world of earthly death is supposed to cry out, Forgive us, O Lord!! We have sinned!! We fall short of the glory of God!! May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven!!

Why is it that in the church, we do everything we can to silence these cries. We mask our pain and deny the soul permission to mourn what is meant to be mourned. We lead others away from the very positions of brokenness, poverty of spirit, and grief... that would align us to receive the holy salve, the divine blessedness of God, designed to touch the humble.

We have lost the light and understanding found only in a holy sorrow, a light that is beckoned by darkness. Not a sorrow of the world that leads to death, but a sorrow that is according to the will of God, that produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. (2 Cor 7:8-10)

There is a season to mourn. It is a season, not a long-term commitment. But, in it's pain, there is a beauty. There is a birthplace of true light and understanding found only in the hollows of emptiness and loss.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  (Matt 5:4)

*Thank you to my small group for continually providing such nourishing discussions, enriching my understanding as we delve into the depths of God's Word in the beatitudes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In the year that King Uzziah died.

In the year that King Uzziah died... I saw the Lord. (Isaiah 6:1)

Grief and brokenness have potential to usher us into the most powerful of worship experiences and revelations from God. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah grieved. In his grief, He saw the Lord, seated on His throne, still sovereign and reigning over all, and the train of His robe filled the temple with glory.  

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw that the whole earth is full of His glory (6:3)! In grief from death, his eyes were opened to seeing in the spirit another realm that surpassed the one of earth's realities with sand he could feel with his feet and sift with his fingers.

He encountered the true reality of a living God, who reigns in heaven and on earth and under the earth. In His Presence, Isaiah was cleansed, but not just for himself, for his people. Woe is me for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King. The Lord of hosts. (6:5)

In the year that Lynn Erskine died... I saw the Lord, seated on His throne, high and exalted. And the train of His robe filled the temple. He extended His arm, and with a live coal in His hand, He touched my mouth. He extended His sceptre of grace and mercy, calling me into His infinite love, saying See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for (6:7). He crowned me with favor as a daughter of the King, cleansed and healed me. He put a scroll of royal decree in my hands, sealed with the seal of the King of kings, the Lord of Lords, the Almighty sovereign God who reigns in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. He sent me as His representative, to "go for Us" (6:8), to carry forth His decree, with hosts of heavenly armies encamped about me to deliver me. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you. (Jeremiah 1:19).

For you are my witnesses declares the Lord, my people whom I have chosen, that you might know me, believe me, and understand that I am He. (Isaiah 43:10)

I find that I am overwhelmed by the Living God. In His loving kindness, He upholds me in my grief, in my exhaustion, in my questions and concerns, my doubts and unbelief. He ministers to me as a Father to his little child. And still, there is another force moving and sometimes raging in and through me. It is a mighty force of His Spirit that is not of me, that holds great mystery and power.

Isaiah encountered this similar experience of holy calling, of sending, something not of Himself. And it was He who wrote in the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the very words that Jesus would later proclaim... The Spirit of the sovereign Lord, is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor... (Isaiah 61:1) This is His royal decree.

Isaiah was just a man, as I am just a woman (though, I feel much more like just a girl). Though, like many others, he was chosen before his birth, his ministry came forth out of brokenness and grief. In his weakness, he was ushered into his high calling of great strength and power in the Spirit, his eyes were opened to seeing something more than just himself, which has always been the for the same purpose... To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to release the prisoners from darkness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour, and comfort all who mourn... (Is 61...)

My God is mighty and mysterious, and yet He is tender, and my closest Friend.  Give me eyes that see You, Lord. Strengthen and protect me that I might serve you well, and be a vessel through which your royal decree is carried out, the words of Isaiah 61 fulfilled, the fullness of salvation in Christ being made known on the earth...

Friday, October 25, 2013

"Hard Work", Day 420.

I continue to hear these words, Grief is such hard work. 

For many months, I thought, Of all the ways to describe grief, why those words? Certainly there are many more accurate ways to describe grief than "hard work"? Like "hell on earth", for example. Why not those words? As I continue in my second year, I am coming to realize the depth of truth imbedded in those words... Grief is hard work. 

I have written before about the changes that occurred in my grief crossing over into year two. During year one, I was empowered by some sense of purpose, like I was climbing a mountain that actually had a top. The anniversary was like a goal set before me, something to push towards, like a finish line that I could cross, collapse, and celebrate at the end of a marathon. But, the anniversary brought no fulfillment, climax, or culmination to my grief, and left me with a sense of wandering... If there is no "finish line", than what I am I working so hard for? If there is no goal, no top of the mountain, than what am I trying to accomplish? Where is my motivation? How do I focus my energies and keep climbing when I know there is no real end...

Recently I watched the movie, The Way Back. These men, later joined by one young woman, set off on an unimaginable trek through Siberia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas, escaping a World War II labor camp and crossing over the border into freedom. Every day, they got up and walked. The odds were almost impossible that they would make it. Several of them died along the way. Starving, freezing, dehydrated, and burning under the desert sun, they walked. I used to think that grief was like climbing a mountain. But now I know it is just living. It is just getting up and walking an impossible, unimaginable trek, lived out in the context of our everyday lives.

Sometimes, I am asked, Are you working? I never know what to say to this question for numerous reasons, but not the least of them being the desperate emotional response of, Are you kidding me??? Do you have any idea how hard I have to work to get myself up in the morning? To take care of my family? To be alive and breathe?

I am a widow. But on the outside, contextually, I am 29 years old, with two beautiful young daughters. I have a lovely home with a gorgeous view. I have loving family and friends. I should be thriving. I should be at the top of my game. I should be in my golden years. But on the inside, I am like an 80 year old widow, who has lived an entire lifetime, literally, my husband's entire lifetime, a full and complete lifetime with one husband, that is over, and he is gone. How exactly am I supposed to keep going? How exactly am I supposed to just choose a career or a job or some new purpose to live for???

Grief is terribly hard work. The heaviness of chest, the nausea, the sleep deprivation, the crushing sense of loss, the removal of all joy and pleasures of life, of all reasons worth living (other than Jesus and my children...)

I am facing the reality today that grief without a goal is terribly challenging for me. I have little desire to do anything with my life. I keep trying to push myself forward, but there is a sense in which I feel I have died with my husband. I think of things I could do, often feel like I should do... But I don't want to do any of it. I want my husband back. I want to wake up from this nightmare and find joy, a release from such tremendous pain. I want to weep on my husband's shoulder, and crawl into the safety of his embrace. I want to feel like life is worth living again, not just assent to its intellectual probability.

Once again, I swallow the lump in my throat, I rise to yet another day of desert, with swollen feet on burning hot sand, lips chapped and bleeding from the sun... Day 420...

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus... (Phil 3:14)

I renew my commitment to plunge East, face the darkness, trusting that I will come upon the dawning of a new day... I will lean into my grief. No matter how much it feels like it will crush me. No matter how unbearable the unending pain. No matter how HARD it is...

Grief is HARD WORK!!!!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The boardroom.

A long table. Coffee and tea. White-washed walls. And lots of grey hair...

This morning I braved my first GriefShare small group session in our local church board room. I was terribly nervous. I had assumptions about what I might find, but really had no idea. Other than a few one on one counselling sessions or coffee sessions with another widow, I had never entered into a "fellowship" of grief. And the prospect of it had my knees wobbling...

The facilitator opened with her own story. Widowed twice. She has lived through the death of two husbands. As each member took their turn, I marvelled again at the wide range of circumstances that had led each one to this place. The losses of parents, siblings, children, and spouses. Each circumstance unique. Every loss, validated. And still, I marvelled again at the similarity of our grief experiences... Ultimately, we love. We lost. Now, we grieve.

I was rather unfortunately placed around the table, falling last in the line of story introductions. I had a long time to wonder, what will I say? What should I share? Can I find any common ground in this room of men and women, most of them twice my age? I felt I should start with, My husband died one year, one month, and eleven days ago. Like in an AA meeting where you begin with, I am an alcoholic... How does my story fit in to the overwhelming despair seen around this table of fellow-grievers?

Again, I marvelled at the mystery of God. For God is near to those who are broken-hearted. Our fellowship of mourning was truly blessed because of Jesus. For, God dwells with the lowly and poor in spirit... Not all at the table were strong men and women of faith. Still, each one had a sense of something nearer to them. Each one recognized that in devastating grief, when life is no longer worth living, food and hobbies and activities have lost all pleasure, and darkness and pain are the only things constant... In that place, we look for something... Everything else is counted loss. What is worth living for? Where is there any comfort? In this place, there are two choices. Death and life. I have set before you life. Choose life. 

"Grief is hard work." I have heard this said from many a widow. I have experienced it and live in it on a minute by minute basis. But there, in that board room, in the fellowship of our sufferings, I saw it most clearly expressed. Such devastation happens through loss. Such despair. Such pain that seems unending and unable to be endured...

I sometimes trick myself into thinking that the pain will go away as I continue to be blessed in the Lord.   That when I am in His Presence, He will make everything right. When I am revelling on the mountaintop of praise, I will remain there forevermore, never to tread the depths again. No more low valleys and shadows of death... But I am always mistaken. The highs and the lows remain. Both. Each. And.

I am humbled once again, and somewhat enraged to recall that patience, endurance, and brokenness are highly esteemed positions of glory in the kingdom of God. That He looks for the lowly and contrite of spirit, and for those who tremble at His word. That BLESSED are the poor in the spirit. BLESSED are those who mourn...

I am best positioned for the glory of God when I am in the sorrowful lows of my grief. I prefer the mountaintops, and though many would suggest that there is where the Christian life of blessing is lived, I may beg to differ. Scripture would describe to me a more upside down version of blessing, that is in fact, right side up, where we are brought low to be lifted up. Where we are broken. Where we grieve. And where Jesus is near, in the fellowship of His sufferings, bringing comfort and perfect peace.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hights and depths.

How is it possible? To experience such highs in the Spirit and such lows of grief, simultaneously? 

This is what the Lord is doing in me...

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3)

For me to know the fullness of God, to know the breadth and length and height and depth of God's love, my soul has to grow... The fullness of God's love is not something mystified or intellectual, idealistic or existing only the theological dissertations of a scholarly mind. The fullness of God's love is made manifest in the highs and lows of our very lives, of our every day experiences. No matter where life takes us, to what depths of sorrow, to what lengths of distance and separation, to what hights of glory and joyfulness, His arm is not shortened that it cannot reach (Isaiah 59:1). The mystery is this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The saving arm of God's love and everlasting grace reaches into the very pits of hell (1 Peter), conquers every hindrance, overcomes all obstacles, and makes light to shine in darkness. 

May you know and experience the fullness of God's love in the breadth and width and height and depths of your daily life and experiences. 

Love you. 

Stepping in.

This is presently experimental. I think the Lord's been asking me to do this for a while. I am still broken. Still assaulted by grief. And yet, God is doing exactly what He said He was going to do. He is doing a new thing in me. He is making waters in the wilderness and streams in the desert. In the desert place, He is springing up fountains of living water... I have been fighting Him for a long time, not wanting to step into His plan for my life. But in brokenness, I obey. By grace, I step into His calling on my life. In faith, I take hold of my Jesus and the abundance of life in Him.

P.S. Somehow, when I upload a video, the computer decides to choose a random image from the middle and change it as the opening scene... The Lord must be making sure that I'm truly dead to myself and not self-serving in any regard, because it always looks ridiculous :) So laugh away, dear friends!! I embrace humility with great faith in Christ!! :)

Friday, October 18, 2013


Disclaimer: I usually try to avoid sharing specific instances such as these because it involves real people whom I love and adore and I in no way want to give the impression that I have been wronged. I have been well loved and cared for. It's just that these instances are part of life and the experience of grief that is not always shared by even the ones closest to us.

Excitement bubbled over as everyone started to arrive. My family shares a genuine love and support for one another, so looking forward to these times when we all get together...

Thanksgiving with my family looks as traditional as any other... You have the big, beautiful house, women making the big meal, the brothers bringing home their girlfriends, the children making awkward comments to the girlfriend about potential marriage...!, the cousins running amok, inventing games, and jumping on the trampoline with their Uncles... Then there are usually guests, unsuspecting visitors who apparently didn't realize they were coming to a fiasco of such magnitude, with turkey, decorations, pies, pets, and loud, rowdy siblings, with seven young, rambunctious children... (SO AWESOME!)

I must confess that I didn't even realize I would be especially impacted on such a day. I suppose I assumed it was a day like any other, a visit with my awesomely loud family, Lynn's presence still absent. I coped decently well, enjoyed visiting with these beloveds, meeting the new visitors, and playing with the kids... I hadn't even thought about last Thanksgiving... I hadn't prepared myself for the table, for dinner, for the prayer...

My heart lurched into my chest as I heard my sister passionately declare, We're going to go around the table and share what we are thankful for! This may sound trite and cliche in a blog, but in actuality, it comes forth from a deep and sincere desire to offer thanksgiving up to our heavenly Father. My sister and brother-in-law are beautiful believers in Jesus and amazing parents. We were gathered around their table. So our thanksgiving would be shared. As worship. Thank you, my amazing sister.

As much as I love and validate the beauty of my sister's heart, I froze on the inside, begging, No. Please. Don't put me through this. Don't sit me around a table of couples, force me to listen to everyones great joy and delight, thankful for one another, romantically gazing into each others eyes, and put me on the spot, as though I'm supposed to be able to think very clearly and spiritually in this contextual circumstance...

The people shared. It was as I suspected. I am so thankful for my family. I am so thankful for my spouse. We are so blessed to be a happy and healthy family... My emotions ranged from intense anger, thoughts of, How dare they put me in this position, to humiliation, knowing it was perfectly natural that they should all gather around a table and give thanks for each other on Thanksgiving Day (of course there were other things people were thankful for, too). I thought, I can't do this, Lord. I can't listen to this and then put on a good Christian smile that says, I am so happy and blessed and am thankful for... my family? Well, I am thankful for my family, but in the same way as these people around this table!  My turn came rather quickly and I quickly mumbled a Yes, I'm thankful for my family. I refused to elaborate for sheer lack of anything kind and/or meaningful to share, and continued to listen in torturous pain as they all happily poured out their thanks before the Lord. There was not a mention of my late husband.

The last to share was my Mom, who ever sensitively shared, maybe somewhat on my behalf, her sadness at Lynn's absence, but her joy and thanksgiving for her family... Thank you, Mom. Thank you for saying his name. Thank you for acknowledging my pain.

There, in that magnificent room, with the father seated honorably at the head of the table, the wife properly situated by his side, a beautiful meal spread before us, everything beautiful and healthy and lovely... I felt sick. And I needed to weep. Instead of finding the strength to share my grief with my family, I quickly exited the room at the first decently respectful opportunity, left the house to cry in the grass outside. There I wept. I shook with anger and grief until my brother came out to hold me, another always in tune to my heart and sensitive to my grief.

I am safe with my family. I am dearly loved and cared for. Still, sometimes it is hard to speak up. How do I compete with the surrounding gladness, especially on a day like Thanksgiving? I don't like being put on the spot. I don't like feeling like I have to teach everyone around me about grief. I don't want to have to explain why I can still have a thankful heart even though in that particular moment I couldn't think of a single thing I was actually thankful for. All I saw was happy couples. Blessed families. While mine remains broken and wounded, my heart empty of that kind of joy...

And I am thankful. But I also lament. Still, I worship. And, I serve. I am still a member of one body, the Body of Christ, and I surrender my life to Him wholeheartedly.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Okay, I'm going out. Hmm... what do I need to do to get ready? I guess I better change. Hmmm, should I wear these earrings or these? Oh what do I care, I hate earrings. I'll just leave my pearls in as usual. I better fix my hair. I haven't even brushed it. Oh, thinking of brushing... I better brush my teeth before I forget. Okay, ready. WAIT! Where are my rings?! Rings! I must have on my rings! (Butterflies start to flutter in my tummy and I start to blush like a teenager...) Okay, phew! Rings are in place. Stop being an idiot, Natasha! You're just going to get groceries!!!

Every now and then, I have a day when I feel very single. I'm only 29 years old after all. Still a few months shy of 30. Okay, maybe a couple of months... Oh my, it's coming up quick. I'm almost 30!!

The thought of remarriage sends my heart and mind spinning. I blush at just the thought of being approached by a single man. (Though, I must confess, I have noticed that there are none, so no worries there!) But in the case that I ever did come across some eligible bachelor, what on earth would I do! What on earth would I say?? I would stutter, have no coherent train of thought, probably freak out, and run away... Someday, I may have to deal with that, but for now... I have my rings. Wear the rings. Flash the rings. Stay away from men! 

Approaching 30, starting a whole new decade, feels like another one of those milestones that puts my old life in the past and thrusts me forward into something new and different. But how new and different? I seem to fight change every step of the way. All of what I do, I am still forcing myself, working hard, trying to keep living whether I want to or not. I can't imagine being happy again. There is always joy in the Lord's Presence, but happiness in life is not something I expect anymore. (However, I do have an inkling that the Lord still desires it for me.)

I hate being alone. The first thought of remarriage entered my mind very early after Lynn's death. My feeling was, How could I have all this love for a man no longer here? What do I do with it? Where do I put all this love still living in my heart, destined for a husband?? I am a wife. It doesn't just disappear. 

The other side of the remarriage coin has to do with children. I pondered, Surely, my children won't grow up entirely without a father figure! Surely, at least by their wedding day, there will be a man they can call "Dad" to walk them down the isle! My daughters cry out for fatherly affection and many nights I have cried out to the Lord, Give my children a Daddy!!! They need a Daddy!!!! I think there are many ways a family can adjust to becoming a single parent dwelling, but I don't think it ever feels right to be without a Daddy. There is no adjustment big enough to make up for what is lacking in the absence of a father. My only hope has been that God will be their ABBA, their Daddy God (as we say), and he will be a father to the fatherless...  But I have also given them my permission to pray for a new daddy. And this, they are doing.

I love Lynn deeply and truly, but acknowledge my desire to have a companion. I am suffocated by loneliness. I miss having someone to love. But I also acknowledge that these days, weeks, years... continue to shape me into a stronger and better woman. Healing is happening, slowly but surely. I have grieved for Lynn, begging him to forgive me for my weaknesses, my inadequacies, my failures as his wife. But in all truth, I know we were just young! There is so much we hadn't learned yet. Sometimes, I comfort myself with the notion that we would have. We would have learned it. We would have matured and grown and learned... I don't ever want to believe that Lynn had to die in order for me to grow and mature. I hate that Christian-ease notion. Instead, I am blessed to grow and mature in the midst of suffering and loss. I am blessed to experience the emptiness of widowhood. I am blessed to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because I am filled. I am blessed to mourn, because I am comforted. God truly does work all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes. 

Often, when I pray about God's plan for my life. I can not avoid this subject. Are you presently preparing someone somewhere in the world who will someday be my husband? My second husband?? What an insane notion! I still cannot fathom it. But I do hope for it. And my children are praying for it. For now, I am simply telling the Lord that he better be rich and handsome. :) Right now, he'd have to be pretty fabulous to catch my attention :).

Writing, sort of.

I am writing. Praise God, I can finally say I am actually writing. :)

My world has been such a whirlwind the last few months. I have been so overwhelmed by sickness, single parenting with complicated and dramatic daughters :), household management I am still getting the hang of, and countless "man-jobs" around the house that go way over my head.  I've had much love and support, but sometimes, I must confess, it makes life more overwhelming and chaotic :).  Let me explain...

I have a garage. What a blessing!! My husband always wanted a garage :). But it was a terrible mess when I first moved in. The electric opener on the garage was present, but not hooked up, and no automatic button for opening the garage. But it could be opened manually. A friend came by and hooked it up for me, and it did work, but again, had no button for opening it from the outside. Then, a few months ago, some of my family members came in and cleaned the garage, painting the cupboard doors, one of the walls, transforming it from a dirty mess to a functional garage :) It was so wonderful! But in order to paint they had to unhook the electric opener. So, it had been altered and could no longer be opened manually, but now it was unhooked and cords misplaced, so no longer able to be opened electrically either. To further complicate the issue, some very large bees had made their home inside a crack in the concrete directly underneath where the garage door met the ground. It was impossible to get at them, and they continued to fly in and out, usually outside around the front entrance. We sprayed a whole can of something down into the crack, needing to find a way to remove these buzzing creatures, but it was all for not. They prevailed. The indestructible workers continued to buzz in and outside of the house. I thought maybe I could wait them out until the cold and they went dormant...

 So, later on, someone came and installed two knew outside lights for me. removing the filthy old brown ones and slightly improving the look of the outside of the house. I was so thankful for such a sweet helper! But during that switch, something must have happened to one of the wires. The light switch was backwards, but furthermore, the breaker would blow every time I turned the lights on in the front hallway, the garage, the outside front or outside back doors.. Soon, they just didn't turn on at all. Hmmmm. So I went a few weeks without any lights on that end of the house, but it certainly became a nuisance. So I had a nice clean garage, but no way to open to the door, and no lights to see after dark on that side of the house.

Sooo... A wonderful team of amazing workers came from my new church in Charlottetown to bless us with some storage shelves in the basement, a painted deck and shed, and some clever handiwork to secure the ceiling in the garage that was starting to fall down a little... One of the kind men looked into the fuse situation and tried to fix it for me. He got the lights working, but said something is still off and I'll need an electrician. Now, the lights work, but the outside light doesn't shut off.  Okay, I said. I can live with that for a while :)

Later, they sent a man over with a new electrical garage door opening system. I was so thrilled!! He hooked it up, it was a gift from the church, and gave me a button for the car so I can even open it from the outside and drive in.. But there's one glitch. The power no longer works in the garage... So now, I have working lights, a clean garage, a new garage door opener, but no power in the garage outlet, or in the outlet in Roya's bedroom that has always worked for both her lamp and night light.  AND, to make matters more ridiculous, the bees have no gone dormant. Instead they moved in. They have all flown into the garage, 20+ huge bees covering the floor and window... So, I have lived in this house for 5 months, thrilled to have a garage, but still cannot open my garage door, and furthermore, have locked the door to the garage from inside the house because it is so dangerously full of massive buzzing bees. (Though they still manage to sneak into the house on many occasions, which leaves me chasing them and catching them with jars, releasing them again outside, because I'm an idiot and cannot seem to swat and kill a bee...)

Well, that is just one example of the many ridiculous scenarios I could share. Does it sound overwhelming to you? Maybe it would be easy for any one else besides me :) I find I am so blessed by the love and support of others, but sometimes think, I would so much rather pay a professional and just get it over and done with!!!  But then it sometimes seems rude not to accept graciously the help and support of others... One of the many plights of the widow :)

Still, I am mostly at peace, and finally getting my feet under me, sort of... And I am still trying to figure out how to find the time, but I am writing this book. I have to be able to think clearly and be still in the Spirit and listen to the Father's voice in order to write what he has placed on my heart. But I am in it. Slowly, but surely. I am getting there...

Monday, October 7, 2013

From strength to strength.

Blessed are those whose strength is in You, 
     who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of Baca,
     they make it a place of springs;
     the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
     till each appears before God in Zion. 
(Psalm 84:6-7)

When all is lost, my Jesus says, Now you shall find Me.
When I am weak, my Jesus says, Now you shall soar.
In the desert, my Jesus says, Overflow with springs of living water.
In the wilderness, He says, Behold I am doing a new thing! (Is 43:19)

In all of the noise, he says, Be still. Find rest in Me. Take my hand, for I am your God. 

I am ministered to by the love and grace of Almighty God. I go from strength to strength. I am satisfied in His Perfect Peace.

And out of this place, He says, Go. Soar. For I am with You. 

I am your sun and shield, I bestow favor and honour; no good thing will I withhold from you, from those who walk blameless... [taken from Psalm 84:11]

O Lord Almighty, blessed is the person who trusts in you. (Psalm 84:12)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Words fall short.

I am immeasurably blessed in the Lord.  I find I want to write, I'll start to blog, but I cannot finish, or cannot post what I have written...  My spirit is often caught up in intercession these days and words taste bitter in my mouth.

As deep calls unto deep, language fails to satisfy.

Sometimes, God gives us gifts that are too precious to share publicly. They are specially reserved for the right moment in a conversation, when sharing it might add a special blessing to someone else's journey.  They belong to me, not to the world. Of course, we are blessed to be a blessing, but God also gives good gifts to his children. :)

Rest in Me, my daughter. Abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Make way, O Bride.

The times have changed. The air has shifted. Make way for the Kingdom of heaven...

The Lord is releasing His prophetic anointing in me. I am honored and thrilled to be a part of His kingdom work. For this time. In this season.

Get ready. It's a coming. :)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

He's still dead. I'm still a widow. So now what?

Crossing over into the second year has been a sober experience.  As though I have awaken from the most dreadful nightmare, only to discover that I am still in it, because it wasn't a nightmare at all. It was real. It is real. It continues to be real. Crossing over was like reaching the finish line after a long marathon, only to realize that it was an illusion. The line doesn't exist. People walk away, but the pain doesn't end. Coming to the end of the terrible trek through griefs first year is like climbing a mountain and reaching its highest peak, only to discover that the ground is flat. The path led me nowhere I thought I was going. There is no victory, no sense of overcoming, no euphoric sense of "now that's over I can get back to my life!" Grief tricked me. It tricked me into thinking I would get what I wanted if I made it through. But there is no through. There is no reward. Because all I want is my loved one back.

He's still dead. And I'm still a widow. So now what?

This is the most uncomfortable realization... He's still dead. I'm still a widow. So now what? It changes grief from a seasonal time frame to a lifelong companion. I am no longer striving to make it through. I am breathing, and trying to cope with the complexities of grief and widowhood in the midst of regular life, beyond the "crisis". This kind of pain is new and different. It is unbearable to face. Raw pain is still present, but it lacks the cushion of shock allotted to the bereaved in that first year. It is a pain I cannot express into words. I would give anything to hide from it. I would give anything to escape the dreadful reality of widowhood. I would give anything to trade anyone else's problems in the world for this unbearable reality. I no longer care what society does or says. People don't believe its true, but it is true. There is nothing worse than this.

Widows are crazy. We are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically unstable. Actually its completely normal to "us". We all seem to understand each other. Our insanity makes perfect sense to those who have been through it. It is only crazy to those on the outside! Those who, no matter how well they mean, they cannot understand such a surge of anger over something so seemingly insignificant, or that snarky remark that seemed rude and uncalled for, or the isolation, the lack of engaging in society. Surely, all of these symptoms are uncalled for after the first year? Surely, these grievers can control themselves enough not to break such foundational social norms...

I am trying to accept this unfortunate reality. I wrestle with how to walk this difficult road and still be who I am, still honor my Savior, still be available to his call... How do I carry grief with me wherever I go and whatever I do, but not allow it to take over? Allowing anger and fear and even self pity to run its natural course, but guarding my heart and knowing when its too much...

How do I serve a couple who gaze into one another eyes as I used to gaze into my husbands? How do I minister to other children who jump up into their Daddy's arms, ignorant of that luxurious privilege, and how painful it is to be without.  How do I watch spouse's take each other for granted, people complain about "silly" problems, experience the pain in my heart that I still fully expect will kill me dead, and remain compassionate, gracious, kind, long-suffering...?

My naivety has been replaced with a sober-minded knowledge of how cruel life can be.  But perhaps this is good. Perhaps it is very good indeed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One year.

It has been a year. A year since I last saw your smile, felt your touch, heard your laugh. It has been a year since I last felt your energy and life buzzing around me. It has been a year since I have gone to bed with you beside me and woken up to your warmth. It has been a year since I have watched you with our daughters, playing with them and parenting them in your own unique way. It has been a year since they have felt your touch, heard your voice, known the security of your strong presence.  

I have looked with dread and agony towards this day, but also with anticipation, as though some sort of closure or resolution would come in the place of confusion and loss... As though surviving the first year after catastrophic loss would provide a sense of accomplishment or strength. Instead, these are the things I find:

My family is increasingly valuable to me. I long to be near them and cherish their presence in my life. I care less and less about "family issues", personality tensions, conflicts and friction. I know they love me and I need their constancy in my life.

My children are amazing creatures. They reflect Lynn's character and qualities in so many ways, his quirkiness, his drama, his brilliance and talent.  They grieve along with me, but I realize that I grieve for what they do not know... I grieve for the things they will never know that they've missed, the things they do not realize they might have had.  I know these things, but they do not. I grieve for them.

Loneliness and loss are life companions. They are not comfortable or enjoyable in any way, but are beneficial. They reveal just one of many tensions to be managed* My daily challenge seems to lie in managing the tension between genuine sadness and genuine joy, genuine peace and raw anger, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness with hope and faith... And this is how the soul grows.*

There is no resolve or closure to loss. There is no sense of greater purpose of "big picture". There is nothing normal or acceptable about an empty chair at a dinner table that once belonged to someone dear. There was a man once. He lived and breathed. He impacted the world by his giftedness and generosity. He is gone. He will never be replaced. The world will always have the hole where he once fit. Our family will always have a hole where he once lived and breathed. Death stole away someone in my inner circle, so close to me... This will never become normal.

No one will ever know or understand the depth of my grief, in the sense that all people are unique. This is isolating. No one will touch the memories shared in intimacy between a husband and wife. No one will see my daughters and remember what it felt like to cut their umbilical chord and take them in their arms in those first few moments of life. There is no one else who will ever be able to visit those memories with me the way my husband could. There are tragedies all over the world. Many much much greater than mine. In this, we are all connected. We are broken and all grieve. But I will carry much of my own grief in isolation because it is the cry of a particular wife for her particular husband. And this, no one else can know or understand.

I miss Lynn's family. I miss our connection to the States. I wish I could grieve alongside with those who call him brother and son, nephew or cousin...

Much has transpired in my heart and soul over the last year. The tiniest room for acceptance has been opened. I receive the reality that Lynn lives joyfully in another place, that he does not miss us like we miss him, that he encourages me to go forward and go forward (in some ways) I have... I know the girls are strong. Our bond is strong. Roya is hurting, but strong. Alea grieves and shines, looking everywhere for her Prince... She can hardly remember her loving daddy.

I guess I know my life will never be the same. I have accepted the painful reality that it is all washed away in the tide of death, the waves of grief, the flow of loss... There is only this moment. My breath. The gift of family and children. These three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13).

Today, I look ahead to Roya starting kindergarten, my last year home with Alea, continued efforts to make this new life comfortable and managable, financial planning and work from home, trusting the Holy Spirit to grow my soul to be able to cope with the many things life throws at us, the continued learning curve of how to handle everything on my own (while still relying at times on the help of family and friends!), etc. Dryers failing and damp basements, insurances and online forms... everyday things that remind me I'm alone... I have dread around our would-be-tenth anniversary, excitement around Christmas in our new home, plans for the Spring, and projects for the summer... But mostly, my mantra is "Breathe, just breathe." And to embrace the Ministry of the Mundane*, the rhythm of everyday life, the healing that takes place as we live and breathe and sit and do...

I may be done blogging. I'm not entirely sure. I do know that my soul cannot take much exposure these days. I am vulnerable and quiet, coping and reflecting and sometimes believing...

Tomorrow will reveal itself. We shall soon see.

*Lynn strongly resonated with Nancy Ortberg when she spoke in a worship leading seminar about tensions to be managed vs problems to be solved.
*A Grace Disguised, How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser
*John Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why? - Part 2

Good morning day. Are you here already? 

I'm awake at 4:30am... again. I confess it is usually my cat, waking me up, wanting to get out for good hunting before the sunrise... But often, like this morning, I wake up on my own, expecting to see Lynn at the foot of our bed, leaning over the dresser drawer, getting dressed for an early run. It is still as natural as the morning sun to me. I used to tell him how much I loved to go to sleep beside him, to end the day with him. But, he always preferred the mornings, having someone to wake up to... known cause... no known cause...

I feel a little numb. I spent some time arranging details for the girls cardiologist appointments, went through some other paper work, mailing, registrations that needed to be sent in. The girls were their usual awesome selves, with strange episodes here and there like Roya throwing off the cover on the tank of our new toilet so she could see what it looked like inside when it flushed, sending the cover smashing to the floor... Then, getting out to run errands in the morning (which never happened), but not leaving until noon, so packing a quick lunch to eat at the park, then never leaving the park, Alea's foot being stung by a bee, Roya running away again so that I actually got in the car, (Alea already in her seat and buckled), and drove "around the circle" in the parking lot, actually hoping to terrify my child so she would stop running away and stay with me in public places, or just come when I say it is time to go... but it didn't work.  She didn't even notice. (Roya is the most tender and gracious child and seems to behave perfectly for most other people. With her Mama, though, she knows she has a safe place to vent all her frustrations and anger, so sometimes we have a few difficulties...)

While we were at the park, (supposed to be running stupid errands), another mom looked up and shouted at me, Look! A fire! Look at the fire!  I slowly turned as I heard sirens behind me and saw the large mass of smoke lifting up into the sky just blocks away in the neighbourhood across the street. I felt I was suppose to react, at least to offer an Oh my, that's awful! but couldn't manage it. I had no emotion to conjure up over a possible tragedy somewhat nearby, but not directly effecting our lives at all. It's the most embarrassing thing sometimes, this lack of feeling. Sometimes, compassionate feelings are there and genuine. Other times, I fake it. Today, I could not.

Why? Why do others get the luxury of speaking so casually about death? To say things like, Oh my, did you hear?? Well, I heard that... Isn't that just awful. So sad.  Why do other families live normal North American lives, worrying about their net worth and which daycare to use? Why do other couples grow old together, go on dates, enjoy the comfort of each other's company (or their endless complaints about each other...), when I am forever tortured by my missing half. Why do other children get to run up to their Daddy and laugh and giggle, climb up his legs and swing around? When my children have to process grief, grapple with why Daddy died when there is no answer, try to grasp how he could be in heaven but cannot come back to us, and have to undergo tests just in case, causing more and more nightmares, knowing that they might die too...? known cause... no known cause...

The truth is, I am not angry. I feel powerless. Powerless to save my husband. Powerless to protect my children from harm. Powerless to will life to be one way when it is in fact another. I am powerless to fill the void Lynn left in our lives, to accomplish everything on my own... To keep our family unscathed and un-scarred by the mark of death on our lives... I am powerless.

But we see [Jesus], who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb 2:9)

There He is, Jesus... standing above the tumultuous waves, arms wide open, watching me. In my spirit, I hear Him say, Peace, my daughter, Peace be still. Come to me. Fix your eyes on me, the author and finisher of your faith. I am the Way the Truth and the Life. All your answers are found in my peace that reigns over the flood. 

Silly me. I am always trying to reign over my own flood, keep my life together, stay on top of it... Why? Why do I still do that, as id I had any semblance of control? Why does any of it matter when a life so precious can be swept up to glory in an instant, leaving a broken family to struggle without him? What is there left to hold onto? What else could be sure and secure, if for no reason, it can all be swept away?

But we see [Jesus], who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb 2:9)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why? - Part 1

The words from the other end of the phone are echoing like thunder in the back of my head.

We've been investigating your husband's heart...there is no known cause of death... we want to have an answer for you... it's a very interesting case... we are continuing our study... we are sending his heart to the top specialist in the country...

Today, the image of my husband's body lying on the table in the emergency room is replaced by the image of this one organ, my husband's physical heart... The rest of his body is dust and ashes, his other organs donated, but his physical heart, almost a year later, is being kept in sterile fridges or freezers or portable boxes...?

When I first got through to the coroner's office, the woman on the other end of the line reminded me of someone working in a hair salon, chewing gum, saying honey, and darlin' to everyone. I had this image of a white, sterile medical examination clinic, like one pictured in movies or TV shows, with this vibrant woman, adding colour with her makeup and hair clips and painted nails. What a terrible stereotype. What a contrasting, yet fitting, dynamic she brought to the image in my head...

Two phone calls later, after speaking with two examiners involved in the investigation (as they call it), after almost a year's worth of testing... it is most likely that we are dealing option #1. I cannot remove the no known cause echo, that persists in the back of my mind, leaving my head throbbing and my jaw tight...

The examiners were kind and sensitive.  They said things like, We cannot imagine how hard this is... We are going to keep testing until there are no more tests... We want to have an answer for you... Talking to them reminded me of the many phone calls made in those first few months trying to cancel Lynn's accounts.  It took an age and a day to get a certain company to cancel Lynn's cell phone account.  They wouldn't talk to me.  Finally, when they heard he had died, they said, Well we shouldn't even be speaking to you since your name is not on the account... Like they needed to remind me how gracious and generous they were being even to receive my phone call.  Weeks later, after travelling to the out-of-town store location, then from there, sending faxes through to the main branch, it was very clear that they had no idea what to do with an account when a person died. Don't people die? I wanted to say.  How can you be so awkward and unprepared as though you've never heard of a person dying before?? I wanted to say, Why are you making this so difficult for me when it is most certainly not in your favor to continue charging a dead person's, no longer existing, bank account! 

Those people had no idea what to do with death. At least the coroners were practiced in the domain of grief and the bereaved... known cause... no known cause...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What if?

(This is an older post I had started many months ago in the first few months after Lynn's death. I wasn't able to post it at the time, but am facing these same issues again so decided to dig it up...)

It was common for Lynn and I to see or hear the siren of an ambulance and stop what we were doing to pray for the people involved.  Protect those in need, comfort family, send Your healing and grace...  It is still common to see and hear them, but my response to them has felt quite different.

I remember driving with the girls on the highway and an ambulance passing me on the left.  They were not in emergency, just travelling at a steady pace.  Still, I thought... Lynn died in an ambulance just like this one.  Was it this one?  Could it have been them?  Other times I heard sirens... I wanted to pray for them, but instead, could only imagine Lynn's body, his chest rising with his last breath, missing me beside him, surrounded by strange paramedics making strange sounds, and pounding on his chest...

Knowing that my husband died inside an ambulance makes them profoundly real to me, and the tragedies that people face on a daily basis... When I opened the mail, and found a bill from the Emergency Health Services, months after Lynn's death, I felt weary, heavy, empty inside.  I had to take the bill to the bank and pay the ambulance service that carried my husband to the hospital, holding his last breath inside of its belly, swallowing it up, bringing him to me there, already dead and gone.

It is hard not to think of the what if's?  (This is another place I seldom allow my mind to go). The truth is, no conclusions have officially been made concerning a cause of death, and I still await a phone call, that will someday take me off guard, catching me in the middle of supper preparations, or a sisterly squabble, from some appointed person announcing the conclusive results after extra testing on Lynn's heart...  I dread that call.  I know I will be inevitably faced with the what if's.

As a believer, it is one thing to declare God's soveriengty and rest in an sense of completion, divine timing, and sovereign intervention.  But it is something entirely different to know that maybe... just maybe.... if that beloved, stubborn man had stopped half way of the hill... If he had been willing to rest and confess the unusual physical strain he was feeling the last portion of the run... If he had just once in his lifetime chosen to rest instead of push himself forward... Would this have had an entirely different ending?  Would an ambulance look less like a hearse and more like a giver of life to me?  Was this unavoidable? or was it my stubborn, driven, brilliant, self-discipled, dedicated and energetic husband pushing himself beyond the limits of heart?

Again, no answers, though some may come when this mysterious phone call finally arrives and some mysterious human being on the other end of the line informs me of their conclusions regarding my husband's death...

Anger brewing.

One year... one year...

The one year marker haunts me. There is now nothing else in the way.  I have crossed into the 12th month and have no hope of avoiding the devastating milestone before me, the anniversary of my husband's death.

I have a lot to face in the next month, but the thing most glaring and offensively rude before my face is test results. I have to call the medical services again, assuming they have finally finished the testing of Lynn's heart, and finally receive one of maybe three possible answers. #1. There is officially no known cause of death. #2. Lynn died of a genetic disease that was likely passed on to my daughters, which would require lots of tests and monitoring (which I suppose we are doing already "just in case") in the event that they too could drop dead suddenly and unexpectedly... and #3. His death was stress related, some sort of heart attack?  Are there any other options? I'm not sure. Please don't inform me of them if you are aware of some. I will know what I need to know soon enough.

I used wait for this phone call, imagining that in the middle of a regular day, the phone would ring, and someone on the other end would say, Mrs. Erskine? I am calling from the medical examination department and I have here the tests results of your husbands heart... I regret to inform you that your husband died of...??? In my mind, I would drop to my knees, lose my grip on the phone, hear it bounce on the hardwood floor, and scream. This "vision" did not ever come to pass, however. Months went by, more months went by... I tried to reach them before the move and they still did not seem to have anything for me. What do you mean??? You've had my husbands heart for how many months?? How can you just keep his heart, do your tests, and tell me nothing??? He has a family you know!?!?  He has parents and siblings!!! 

I have a lot of anger waiting to be unleashed upon the finding of these results. If it is option #1, I will unleash the anger incapsulated in the relentless question of WHY??? and recognize that I will never know, will never understand, will never be satisfied with answers as to the abrupt end of our life together... If it is option #2, I will likely squelch my anger with practicality and sober minded acceptance, taking on the role of nurturer and overly protective mother, until the Lord convicts me of my faithlessness and brings me to a place of peace... Option #3, is I think the least likely, but also the most terrifying.  It is terrifying because it unleashes a terrible anger that I have been holding in, saving in my waiting, irrationally ready to explode towards any thing or circumstance that may have contributed to this end. There will be anger towards our church and ministry, towards family, towards the whole worldly system that allows Christ followers to get into financial debt following a call into ministry, encourage them to give their lives in service to the gospel, held in such high and noble esteem, then criticize and judge them at every turn, and pay them less than they can afford so they struggle and are burdened by debt for the rest of their lives... Yes, I am angry about these things and more.  And yes, I have been holding it in, waiting...

The brunt of my irrational anger will be towards Lynn. I know Andrew's story. I know how Lynn struggled, even to the point of giving up his runners belt. If I find out that Lynn pushed himself to his own death, I will be REALLY ANGRY. It is wholly irrational, but I have thoughts like, What if Lynn had smartened up and taken a break? What if he had recognized the degree to which he was struggling and acknowledged it, in humility pulling off to the side and catching his breath...? Would fate have changed? Would he still be alive? Did he stubbornly push his body to limits beyond what his heart could withstand, when instead, he could have just rested?

These are big questions in a little widows mind. But soon, I will face them, head on. Soon, I will have some answer to pass along to his family in the States, to my daughters...

And in the meantime... anger is a brewing.