death of a spouse, grace, grief, hope, prayer

On Grief and Grace

This morning, during a quiet, contemplative time that seems so elusive these days, I pulled out my journal, and these pages fell to the floor.

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I’d torn them out of a book I can no longer remember the title of.

I can hear gasps of dismay from fellow book-lovers all over. Mary tore pages out of a book? Why?

It was May or June of 2013. My husband David had died the year before, and my seven-year-old grandson Jacob was losing his battle with cancer. Talk about walking around in a fog of pain. No one but those who have experienced this kind of anguish can understand it.

I had since given it away, but one of Max Lucado’s devotionals had been instrumental in helping me get through that first year of widowhood. (on a side note, I have purchased several copies of this devotional, and each time have felt led to give it away)

Max Lucado morning and evening

I was driving down the street that spring morning when I passed a yard sale that didn’t look at all enticing from the road, except for the fact that a young boy was handling the sales. Something compelled me to turn around and go back. Keep in mind that in many ways I was a new Christian. It was only after my husband’s death that I had learned what it was to listen to God, but by this time I could recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I wandered around the yard, not finding anything,  a bit confused as to why I’d stopped. I started to walk back to my vehicle when I spotted it; a Max Lucado book laying on top of an empty milk crate. I instantly knew this was it; the reason behind the compulsion. The young boy had to go inside to ask his mother how much the book was. His reply when he came out didn’t really surprise me.

“Mom is sick so she didn’t finish pricing everything. She didn’t remember any books, but said if there is one, a quarter is fine.”

I handed the young man a dollar bill, telling him to keep the change for helping his mother. His smile would have been reason enough for my stop, but I knew there was more to it. I couldn’t wait until I got home before beginning to read the book. Instead, I sat inside my vehicle, turning pages. I didn’t even get through the prologue before pulling a pen out of my purse. Without hesitation, I began making notations in the margins. I had no doubt. These words were meant for me. I drank them in as though parched with thirst.

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Page after page, I read Lucado’s words, words that spoke to my aching heart. Had I felt God’s presence during the past year after David’s death? Had I sensed God in the kindness of a stranger, through the majesty of a sunset, or a well-spoken word? Had I felt Him even in the darkness of Jacob’s diagnosis?

Yes, and yes. Even in this, in facing the loss of a beautiful little boy and the anguished eyes of my daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Ben, I had felt it. I had felt God’s caring presence. I had experienced God’s sudden, calming presence in the face of the darkest storm. I could go on and face what was ahead only because of His goodness and His grace.

I devoured those words that afternoon, before giving the book to Elizabeth to read. Whether she got the same thing out of it, I don’t know, but it had been just what I needed that day. Instead of keeping an entire book I might never read again, I tore out the pages that had spoken to me, putting them in the journal that had become a testimony of sorts; a journal that clearly illustrated the spiritual journey the loss of my mother and husband had begun.

Keeping these pages in my journal ensures that I will look at them again, remembering what it was like to find a timely answer through the words of another writer. The kind of answers I continue to find in the kind and gentle smile of a stranger in the grocery store, in eagles soaring overhead during a visit to the cemetery, or what I’ve experienced most recently; through the uncanny connection of the soul with a woman I’m interviewing in my job as a reporter.

Are you going through a period of darkness? Have you glimpsed even a tiny pinprick of light? Have you felt it? His presence?

To know that you can might be all you need to hear today.



faith, hope

HOPE for my desk….

Discovered on a clearance shelf at a Christian book store today;


This “HOPE” plaque for my desk as a daily reminder of this year’s chosen word;

hope stone 001

“Hope; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

faith, grief, hope


Last year, it was patience; the word I chose to concentrate on for an entire year, following the advice of author Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word.  I chose the word “patience” on February 27, 2012, exactly one month before I would lose my husband. The word seemed a perfect choice at the time, considering I was very impatiently waiting to hear from a literary agent who was reviewing my book proposal. For a non-writer, David was incredibly savvy in the ways of the publishing world, and he’d learned how to diffuse the tension inherent in a lifestyle of submission and rejection. I counted on him to “talk me down” when I was particularly anxious.

I taped the word to my desk, where it remains today.

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The word hardly seemed to fit after David’s death; how could patience help me now?

“Why do you always have to be in such a hurry?” David would often ask me, yearning for his wife to be able to take things at a slower pace, enjoy them more; not worry so much.

When I lost David, I wanted nothing more than to hurry through the process of grief, to get through to the other side. The initial pain cut through me like a knife and I didn’t think I could endure it for long. Ironically, the very person I wanted to talk to about the overwhelming process of grief was the very one I grieved. I could not escape the pain. I had nowhere to turn except towards the ONE who had gifted me with David in the first place. Through the loss of David, I developed a closer relationship with God. For that, I will always be grateful.

One of the first books I picked up after David’s death was Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. In it, author Madeleine L’Engle wrote these words that warned me of what was to come;

“But grief still has to be worked through. It is like walking through water. Sometimes there are little waves lapping about my feet. Sometimes there is an enormous breaker that knocks me down. Sometimes there is a sudden and fierce squall. But I know that many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (page 229)

It would not be possible to “hurry” through grief. Unexpectedly, I had to learn patience as I’ve slogged through the floods of grief. I cannot rush grieving, nor can I avoid it. As others have said more eloquently than me, one cannot go over, around or under grief; we have to go through it.

As I look back on 2012, I can see how patience worked in my life. When I signed with an agent in May, I dropped all worry and anxiety about my book in his more than capable lap. For four solid months, I did not worry about a book that had originally been my spouse’s inspiration and idea. I was free to grieve. By the time the responsibility of the book’s sale was returned to me in late September, I’d been to the bottom, emotionally. I’d lost my spouse, my best friend, my partner in life. Losing an agent hardly seemed to matter, in the scheme of things. Besides, in the ensuing four months, I’d been learning a very valuable lesson; I was learning to let God lead me in my life. If that agent wasn’t meant to be mine, then God surely had better plans for me and my book. If nothing else, I’d obtained four worry-free months from the relationship. I amazed myself, and  my long-time friend Mary, with my lack of worry or anxiety over the latest development in a two-year publishing journey with my book. My reaction would have pleased the dear husband who’d so often felt powerless over my anxiety. Within two weeks of the break-up with an agent, I’d signed a book contract. My long-awaited book, Coupon Crazy, will be released in August.

Patience worked well for me in 2012.

January has been a difficult month. While I’d meant to choose a word to concentrate on for the coming year, my grandson’s cancer recurrence and a virulent bout of Influenza A in our house kind of sideswiped me completely. January 2013 will forever remain a big blur in my mind, a month that I accomplished very little in the way of writing, platform building, or anything else, for that matter. Other than a well-dressed trip to Mayo, I’ve pretty much spent the entire month in yoga pants and a sweatshirt, aimlessly wandering from couch to table, and making half-hearted attempts at organizing photos for a scrapbook, cleaning out files, and sorting through piles of papers; the sort of thing one does in the middle of winter in Iowa when one has nothing on their schedule.  With all the time in the world, I still hadn’t managed to choose a word for the year.

But then, the word chose me.

I did not feel well enough for much reading this month, but as I’d mentioned in an earlier blog posting, I had sloughed through A Widow’s Story, a decision I regretted even as I continued reading. I was incensed by the lack of hope in the true account of grieving. My anger was provoked again by the doctors at the University of Iowa when they left my daughter and son-in-law with no hope for their seven-year-old son, my grandson, Jacob.  Grief, I can handle. I have grown accustomed to grief; it has been my constant companion for the past ten months. But lack of hope? There is nothing darker, more oppressing, than despair.

There are many words I could have chosen for this year that I will face the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death; strength, stoicism, even sorrow.  For as the March date approaches, I do feel a looming sense of sadness and yes, dread. The woman who so impatiently wished to complete that first year of mourning, now dreads the milestone. I will not be alone; there are friends and family to call on if I need reinforcements. Besides the first anniversary of my husband’s death, I must continue to face the unknown of my grandson’s cancer this year. There are words I could choose in regards to that, as well, including the seemingly appropriate “FEAR.”

But, instead, having learned far more than just patience this past year, I am choosing a word that embodies my new relationship with Jesus Christ.

The word for the coming year should have been obvious after I read A Widow’s Story. Our experience with the new doctor at Mayo clinic and her choice of words; “miracle,” and “hope,” could have reinforced my choice. Then this gift from my sister Pat would have validated it;

hope 006

But it was yesterday, after a big snowstorm here in Iowa and a fun moment spent outside with my sixteen-year-old where we lay in the snow making snow angels, that I passed this sign I’d hung on my porch last summer, and I knew, without a doubt, what my word for 2013 would be.

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The word is HOPE.

I choose HOPE.

Psalm 62:5 (NIV)

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.

What about you? Do you choose a word each year? What word would you choose for 2013?