From a Widow's Pen

Reflections From the Heart

Category: Parts of the Journey

The Rain

I see a man sitting on a bench waiting for something. A train it seems. It is pouring down rain but yet he sits there waiting what seems to be patiently. Only he knows if he is frustrated or cold or angry. Only he knows why he chooses not to come into the shop and watch out of the window where I wait.

I wonder where he is going. Does he know? Does he care? He doesn’t care about being drenched so maybe he doesn’t care about where the train will take him either.

I wonder if he feels alone. Does he welcome the thought of being alone or dread it? Maybe he is catching the train to meet someone. Maybe they will laugh together and share stories of times past. But why does he wait in the rain? Won’t he be cold and uncomfortable when he finally arrives? Won’t that dampen the laughter and make him want to skip parts of the old stories? Why does he wait alone?

I wonder if it is my job to wait with him. Has God put me in this place, at this time, not to wonder so much about the man but to talk with him?

I have never actually been to this part of town; and I did not set out to come this way today. It was such a beautiful morning. I found myself walking, led by an unknown curiosity of what lay ahead. At the first drops of rain I took refuge in the little shop; the one where I now wait. Is it God’s timing for me to be here now? Is it His plan for me to interact with the man in the rain while he waits? Oh dear, I don’t want to sit in the cold rain and make small talk while we wait for a train that may or may not come. What will I say to him? What if he doesn’t want my company? Then I, too, will just be wet and cold.

If only the rain would stop. Then I might visit with him, find out where he is going. Then I could do so comfortably.

Oh look, here it comes – his train. I watch him rise and climb aboard. He turns just after clearing the top step. He is an elderly gentleman, frail. His eyes are dark and worn. He looks lost and alone but not afraid. I watch him seat himself next to a window but he does not turn to look back at me. The seat beside him remains empty.

It was then that I looked up and noticed the destination on the train window. Panic instantly flooded my being. Oh wait, there are truths that I could have shared with you! Truths that would have allowed you to board another train with a glorious destination. I ran out of the shop in the direction of the train but it was too late. It was already pulling from the station. I had missed it! I had missed my chance; the reason behind God’s placement of me in that spot. I had missed it because I was too afraid of getting cold or wet. All I could do now was watch as the train disappeared into the haze. The picture of the frail man who sat alone in the train embedded forever in my memory.

God had sent me to that shop not to analyze the man in the rain but to sit by him; to hold his hand while he waited and comfort him; to encourage him and help guide his destination. A destination that might have been glorious had I been more willing. But I had been far too worried about being cold and wet and I had missed it.

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So often I look for obvious opportunities to minister to others. Physical or financial needs are great examples. When we know someone is hungry we take them a meal. When we know they are stranded we offer a ride. Both wonderful, much needed and very Biblical ways to minister.

To minister to those I don’t know or to meet a spiritual need, is not always as obvious. It is not that the desire is not there. I just let insecurity overtake me or I question whether it is really God’s voice leading me, putting me in that spot at that time. And as a result, I have missed it – numerous chances to help someone wait out the rain.

What is Your Story?

What is your story? We all have a story and in some amazing ways your story intertwines with that of others. Most of you know my story. If not it is laced throughout the pages of this blog. My story, like yours, is not yet finished.

It is true that there are aspects of each of our stories that are outside of our control. Often we can do nothing to change our circumstances. But the heart of one’s story is in his own hands. Each morning we are faced with this decision: what shape will the heart of my ongoing story take?

Recently, I took my girls to see Cinderella. A good point regarding the shaping of one’s story can be made in assessing this tale. Cinderella has a story. Hers meets adversity at a young age with the loss of both parents and a once happy childhood turned into a life of cruel servanthood. Her stepmother, also, has a story. It too is filled with adversity as seen in the loss of not one but two husbands. It is what each chose to do with that adversity that sets her apart from the other. One allowed kindness and hope to blossom in her heart and the other harbored anger and bitterness. The clashing of the two results in the fairy tale as we know it.

We, too, are living in a fairy tale, of sorts, where good and evil, anger and hope constantly clash. Like Cinderella and her stepmother, we, too, are given a chance to decide how we will let circumstances shape us.

There is no loss of hurt in this world. You see it daily in the form of death, divorce, sickness, injury, job loss, wayward children or abusive spouses. We are not so naive as to wait for a fairy godmother to make it right. We know there are no magic pumpkins, talking mice or glass slippers. My prayer, however, is that you also know there IS both a King and a Prince. And for everyone who lives in the Kingdom, be they nobility or commoner, there IS a happily ever after.

It is because of this King, a Heavenly King far greater than any earthly king could be, that there is hope outside of our circumstances. It is because of this Heavenly King that each of our stories, whether filled with comfort or adversity, finds purpose. Our hope is not in this world. Adversity makes that reality ring true. Our hope is in Christ and our happily ever after is in His Resurrection.

God has made Himself known in many ways. Each day the sun rises again. There are mountains covered with snow and caves filled with wonders. The majesty of God is all around us. Good is still present in this world. It is seen each time a meal is brought to new parents or a donation made for a good cause. It is seen in a visit made to a hospital room and felt in a moment spent on our knees in prayer.

Let these actions, performed from the overflow of God within us, be the magic pumpkin or glass slipper given to another. For those that are hurting there can be laughter and love once again. And for those that know God the promise of happily ever after is just on the horizon.

A story, once told, cannot be untold. Yes, there are parts of your story that you cannot control. Still, you can let it weave itself into a glorious story that is yours alone. One which, when filled with faith in God, has the power to point others to Christ.

What is your story?

Children Present: Fragile Handle With Care

My grandma told a story of my sister finding a robin’s egg as we were walking home from church one spring. They lived in the parsonage near the church. Grandpa passed away when I was 5 so my sister and I (twins) were no more than that. She was so excited with her discovery but too small, or perhaps a better word is inexperienced, to protect it. The little egg was soon smashed by the very hands that sought to help it grow into a beautiful bird.

Our children are in those eggs. Sometimes the things we do, although desiring to protect and help them grow, actually bruise or shatter their shell. Thankfully, unlike the bird, God repairs their shell, but not without consequence. Each time the shell is repaired a scar is left behind. I picture it as a tattoo, of sorts, of the scars on His own hands that resulted from His taking on of our sins. This tattoo serves as a reminder, and better yet teacher, that sin has consequences as does squeezing too tightly.

There is a time in a child’s life that you must let go and let her fly on her own. It starts when she is a baby. God knew we were not capable of letting go all at once. So we release slowly: first to let her walk, then to let her make friends and go places with out us and ultimately to live her own life hopefully rooted in the Scripture and full of desire to follow Him.

As a parent we influence that release but we can not orchestrate it. I can not be all that she needs. I am fallible. If I were perfect, she would have no need for her Saviour.

It is both a freeing and convicting idea. Freeing in the sense that God, in His infinite wisdom that far surpasses my understanding, is ultimately in control. But convicting in that He placed the fragile egg in MY hand and has instructed ME to help it grow, not alone but with His Word as my guide. In order to best protect my child, I need to know what wisdom is contained in that guide. Do I dare walk this path without consulting it? Unfortunately, if I were to answer honestly, it would be “yes” on many occasions.

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Background for the above article:

Today was a particularly tough parenting morning. One child threw a fit, first over her pants then over her sock. Another was extremely slow in preparation. I was slow to get up and therefore running late (which despite all the jokes really is something that makes me crazy).

I finally lost it. We got in the car. One child picked briefly at another. And with one sentence uttered in anger, I squelched every inkling of happy left in that car. We drove the rest of the way in silence. When I dropped them off, one had quiet tears, one said not a word but slipped a small piece of candy in my purse (a peace offering) and the third uttered a softly spoken “I’m sorry mom”. I knew I had done wrong and I sincerely apologized to each individually. The feeling that I was leading them incorrectly sat heavy on my chest.

I often drive to work in silence as it helps me reflect. The image of the bird, the bruised shell and God’s perfect Word as my guide were what I reflected on for the rest of the drive. From thus came the above.

Surviving A Birthday That Is Not Even My Own

The head and the heart always walk the same journey but they do not always share the same experience or arrive at the same conclusion.

Below are two journals from the same journey. One is written from the head and the other from the heart. Do they arrive at the same conclusion? It is much too close for me to discern.

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Written from the head:

I always knew as I aged there would be birthdays I just as soon not see, generally those multiples of 10 that signify aging (hopefully with grace). The birthday I am trying to survive today, however, is not even my own.

Milestones are such a crazy thing. Some of them we look to with anxious anticipation. Others we dread. And still others are met with both dread and anticipation.

Birthdays can be those milestones filled with both dread and anticipation. Consider the 18th birthday. It is often seen with anticipation from the child’s view point. He is looking intently toward future and promise. Somehow 18 makes him ready to conquer the world. That same birthday may be met with dread from the parent who sees a big change on the horizon and a piece of her heart moving farther away.

It is with both anticipation and dread that I look at the coming of this date, John’s earthly birthday so closely followed by his heavenly one.

My kids have been planning for weeks: “Mom, let’s make dad a cake. Can we go out to eat like we used to? We’ll pick some place dad would have loved.” Hailey has told everyone she has seen in the past week that her daddy’s birthday is coming and she is making him a cake.

In one such interaction the other child innocently replied (with no intent to harm), “Your father is dead. Why does he need a birthday cake?”

That child was actually very insightful. The cake is for us not John. In keeping with the scripture and the idea that we are made new upon entering heaven, January 12, no longer carries any meaning for John, just those of us here who miss him. John’s heavenly birthday is now February 17 another date which will soon come to pass for us. Perhaps we should save the cake for then.

So for those who ask the innocent question: “Your father/husband is not here.  Why do you need a cake?” The cake is not for him. It is for us, for my children. A means of remembering, honoring and holding on to that which was once very dear to us.

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Written from the heart:

I tried not to cry today, John. I really did. I wanted to make you proud.  I tried to focus on the memories and this notion that you are celebrating a heavenly birthday, the ultimate prize for a life well lived. I’ve gotten pretty good at tough or numb or whatever you want to call it. It is a survival technique. But by the time I got to work, I was a mess. I couldn’t find a kleenex. (That’s poor planning on my part). I had tears, make-up stains and snot all over my coat and scarf. This day is sad for me. My heart hurts. A day that once was devoted to you, is now magnified without you. I don’t want to have cake or go to dinner. The memories are still mostly painful. Milestones are overwhelming.

I remember when we were facing the inevitable. You were in the recliner and I knelt on the floor next to you with my head on the arm of the chair and cried. Believe it or not, I never cried much before all of this began. But this day I did. You stroked my hair and said, “It’s OK to cry, Sharon. It is a very sad thing.”

I do not know that I can celebrate your birthday without you John Ammons. It will take all I have to help your girls decorate that cake and sit in one of your favorite restaurants. But despite the hurt in my heart, I will. I will go to dinner and I will come home and help the girls decorate the cake. Then we will sing ‘Happy Birthday’. I will do it, not because I feel like it, but because I know it is right and I know that it is important to your girls. At least, maybe, by this evening I’ll be prepared enough to bring kleenex along.

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The head is so much more rational than the heart. I have told my girls on several occasions, the difficulty is often not in teaching your head what is right and wrong. It is in convincing your heart to accept it.

Pursuing a Master’s – Insanity or Just Insanity?

And so it starts, a new journey. My first task as a Master’s student, writing an introductory paragraph about myself, has been completed. Looking at the syllabus it is by far the easiest task assigned. I’m OK with an easy start. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about how I’m going to complete this. In fact, over the past few weeks I have tried desperately to talk myself into withdrawing. But it never seemed right.

God has laid this on my heart and until He changes the desire, I will pursue it. That does not mean He will make it easy. Following God is rarely easy. But He will make it possible.

It isn’t actually the thought of it being possible or not that made me consider withdrawing. It is the question of whether it even makes sense? I am already struggling to meet the demands of full-time employment and single parenting (both of which are still new to me). Adding the burden of course work almost seems insane.

Further, it is illogical, the pursuit of a Master’s in Theology, when you are an accountant with no plans to change careers. New Testament I is not destined to influence my work in the slightest.

Thankfully, God does not often work through what makes sense by my standard. There is example after example in the Bible of Him using insane scenarios to touch lives. Consider just these few:

* Balaam and the talking donkey (Numbers 22:21-31)
* The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea on Dry Ground (Exodus 14:21-22)
* Jesus Feeds 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish (Matthew 14:15-21)

Isn’t every miracle, when compared to what makes sense, insane in its own right? So it is with an anxious, yet determined, heart that I take this (insane) next step. Wondering if, how and when God will use it. Ultimately this is what having a peace in knowing God is all about. It is confidence that an action or pursuit is correct despite the accompanied fear and unknown.

If God lays something on your heart that aligns with His word, even though it does not make sense, pursue it. You never know where it might take you.

Finding A Purpose in Writing

I truly enjoy writing. Since John’s death it has been a release for me. I guess it is the overflow of all the words that I once threw John’s direction when he came in from work. Poor man. That’s a lot of words. I’m trying to remember if I let him come in and get settled before casting off a daily allotment of language in his general direction; or if I just started in as he walked through the door. This memory is fuzzy, so, let’s assume the best.

I was driving home from work a few weeks back contemplating whether I should start a blog. I prayed these words (or some variation there of), “God I would love the opportunity to be able to encourage someone with my writing. But, please, God I only want to write if what I write will ultimately encourage and bring people to You.” In my defense, it was a heartfelt prayer and my hope was something useful to come from heartache. But have you ever prayed something or asked something and then had a realization of how completely ridiculous it sounds? It is not that the request is necessarily wrong. It is that it takes the position that I have something to offer God.

All of a sudden I was reminded of the story of Lazarus. Think back to the rich young ruler who was cast into Hell begging God to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of the truth of Hell. Recall Christ’s words that if they did not believe when Moses and the Prophets told them, why would they believe even if Lazarus returned from the dead to tell them. (Luke 16:19-31)

Is it not a similar scenario? Has God not already provided, in the presence of the Bible, all of the written word needed to encourage and bring others to Himself?

It is a humbling position to realize that God does not need me to encourage others in Him. However, if I am His willing child, He might allow me the opportunity. So it is with a great sense of awareness that I put words on paper and that I tell my story. Awareness that as long as I seek God’s direction first and foremost, He might allow me the chance to spill out something encouraging even if just to one person.

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