Cecil Murphey, death of a spouse, grief, Uncategorized

Finding Hope in Grief, April 18

My husband David introduced me to Cecil Murphey’s book “90 Minutes in Heaven.” The very last book David held in his hands was the same author’s “Getting to Heaven.” On the day my husband died, a check from Cecil Murphey for an essay I wrote arrived in my mailbox. On the night of my husband’s wake, I received word I’d won a Cecil Murphey scholarship to a writer’s conference that would take place on what would have been mine and David’s 34th wedding anniversary. Six months after Cecil and I finally met at another writer’s conference, Cec lost his wife of nearly sixty years, and I began writing him letters, sharing pieces of the book he would later write a foreword for. Now, four years after my husband’s death, I will be speaking with the mentor who became my friend.


Cecil and Mary grief poster

faith, prayer

Learning to “Be Still”

I am notorious for trying to orchestra everything in my life.  “Control freak” is an understatement. This extends even into my prayer life. As an example, before the Write-to-Publish conference in late May, my prayer went something like this; “Dear Lord, I am headed to a conference where I won’t know anyone, not even my roommate. I trust you to give me the roommate I need at this time…, like a widow 10-12 years out…” 

See how I snuck that “widow clause” into my prayer; the answer I thought was best for me? Did I really trust God to provide me with the right roommate if I was telling him what the answer to that prayer should be? Of course not, and God’s answer was as far from what I’d practically demanded as one could get. Beth was in her 40’s, and had never married or had children. Yet she turned out to be the ideal roommate for a new widow who sobbed in her sleep. She was quiet, unobtrusive, sweet, and caring. She asked the right questions and let me talk when I needed to.

By the time I attended the Maranatha Christian Writer’s conference a few months later, I had no preconceived notions of what God should do for me there. I’d learned my lesson.  My prayer was simple; “Lord, I believe you brought me to this conference. Show me what you will.”  When my good friend and writing mentor, Shelly Beach, picked me up from the airport to transport me to the conference, I confided in her about my bad habit of trying to orchestra everything in my life instead of letting God reveal his plans for me. I told her about my prayer for a widow, 10-12 years out. She laughed. Instead of just dropping me off, she kindly took me inside. A lovely woman with a beautiful smile rushed over to Shelly with a warm, welcoming hug. Shelly turned around; “Here’s your widow, 10 years out,” and then introduced me to Sandi, a widow who blogs on grief, Griefwalk.  The next day, Sandi and I were sitting at the dinner table, enjoying a meal, when we struck up a conversation with another woman at the same table, Linda Pouliot, a widow, 12 years out, and author of the wonderful book, Grieving Forward:Death Happened, Now What?  Yes, God had answered my demanding prayer, alright, in his time, and his way. 10 to 12 years out, I’d prayed, and I got one of each.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still,” Exodus 14:14 tells us. The Hebrew word for still means to “cease striving.” (NIV) Could this mean we should stop trying so hard to orchestra everything in our life and let God show us the way?

I have been learning to trust God to show me what he would have me do, but it has not been easy. I have learned my greatest lessons in the past few months since the death of my husband. I am convinced that God can use the worst of the messes in our life for good, if we but let him. He has grand plans for each of us, but in order to find out what those plans are, we need to “Be still,” and listen. He’s not going to shout those plans from the heavens.

According to 1 Kings 19:12, God speaks with a whisper; “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (NIV)

God came in the whisper.

Cecil Murphey, in his beautiful book Making Sense When Life Doesn’t: The Secrets of Thriving in Tough Times, says it this way: “Sometimes the best way for us to get inner direction is not to seek it. To stop trying to solve the problem and allow God to whisper a solution.”

I can attest to this in my own life, especially in the days since the death of my husband.  My friend Mary remarked recently that I had changed; I was not as full of anxiety about recent developments with my couponing book as I once would have been. When my agent informed me that, after just four months of trying, he didn’t think he was the one to sell my book, I just shrugged my shoulders. A year ago, I would have been panicking and hyperventilating; blasting out query letters left and right, and taking control. The old Mary would have been frantic; Didn’t I have to have an agent? Wasn’t it time this book was sold? How long would I have to wait? David believed in this book. I believe in it. What am I supposed to do now?

Instead, my reaction was…Meh. M-E-H. I shrugged my shoulders.

“Maybe it is because I have seen the bottom. I lost David and this setback seems like nothing compared to that,” I told my friend. I did wonder at God’s purpose for setting me down at the lunch table of the wife of this agent a few months before, and getting her so excited about my book that she convinced her husband to sign with me for a project he obviously wasn’t that excited about, himself.

Then it dawned on me. God had gone on ahead of me. 

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

God knew what was coming. He was gifting me with four glorious months in which I didn’t have to worry about my book. My proposal was in the hands of a fabulously competent agent who’d informed me I didn’t need to work on it until after we sold it through the proposal. For four solid months, I had been free to not obsess about my book, and just grieve.

“Thank you, Lord,” I said, and I meant it. “Do what you will.”

Within three weeks, I’d signed a book contract.

Yes, my couponing book will be published by the end of next year, a bittersweet development considering the two people who had encouraged me the most in this project; my mother and my husband, are no longer here to see it to fruition.

There is more to this story, of course. When the couponing book is completed, I have two new books to work on; projects that were revealed to me during those four months my coupon book lay fallow. Both will honor the memory of my two muses, and God, as well.

I can hardly wait to see where HE takes me next.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13


Immersed in the Word

Anyone who knows me well might be wondering why I am uncharacteristically quiet on my blog, other than a couple of posts that took very little thought to write; hastily written posts about shopping and the love of paper and books. The previous two posts could have been written at any point in the last 20+ years. What I write about this evening, however, reflects a growth in grace that I believe began with my mother’s death in 2010.

David was well aware of the gift of faith my mother left me when she died on my birthday. Doors that opened for me and spiritual experiences I had afterward couldn’t be explained away as sheer coincidence. After a particularly vivid spiritual experience that left me reeling with both shock and joy, I turned to my husband. “You do believe me, that this happened, don’t you?”

“I believe you with my whole heart,” he replied, and then added somewhat wistfully, “But I’ve never had that.” I think he saw the changes in me and strived, in his own way, to find something similar. He began watching Joyce Meyer on television and picked up her books at thrift stores, reading them thoroughly. He read, and then re-read, Cecil Murphey and Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, loaning it to a friend who died a couple of months later. The very last book David asked for at the hospital after his heart attack was their Getting to Heaven.

After David died in March, I had a strong desire for two things; prayer and Bible verses. I didn’t want the rote prayers of my childhood faith, but instead, yearned to hear the kind of praying I had experienced at the two Christian Writer’s conferences I’d attended. That is why, two weeks after my husband died, I rode my bicycle to a Methodist church two blocks away and knocked on the door of a 25-year-old youth leader who my daughter promised was good at “praying out loud.”  As tears streamed down my face, I explained why I had come. The young woman pulled me into her office, shut the door, and proceeded to pray out loud for me. Peace washed over me with her words.

When I prayed for Bible verses, I didn’t expect an answer to arrive in the mail a few days later, in the form of several pertinent verses hand-written on notebook paper.  “I felt led to write these verses out for you. Maybe they will bring you some comfort,” the young woman who often tutored my youngest wrote.  I folded the paper carefully and stuck it in my journal. A month or two later, on the morning of what would have been my 33rd wedding anniversary, the papers fell out of the journal just when I needed them.

Maybe I could find a Bible study, I thought as I prayed for a way to immerse myself in the Bible. I read two different devotion books every morning, with two more devotionals arriving in my inbox every day, but that wasn’t enough. Hungry for God’s word, I wanted more. I filled pages of my journal with God’s promises. I read a dozen Christian books on grief and mourning.

When I was asked if I could write some devotionals for a grief Bible, my initial reaction was uncertainty. I had never written a devotional. Could I do it? As I read the guidelines and sample devotionals, it dawned on me that this was God’s answer to my prayer. I would have to study his word to be able to write the devotions.

That is where I have been; immersed in God’s word, working on devotions that will be featured in a Bible for the grieving. And as I have worked on the devotions, I have experienced something amazing; I have been healing.

During this same time, as I’ve worked on the devotions, things have also been falling into place so that I can attend the Maranatha Christian Writer’s conference where I will be taking workshops on writing devotions as well as learning about writing Christian non-fiction.

I no longer believe in coincidences. It is no coincidence that I was asked to write devotionals for a grief Bible. Neither is it a coincidence that exactly six months to the day after David’s death, I will be sitting in the same room and learning from Cec Murphey, David’s favorite author and the man who gifted me with a scholarship to the Write-to-Publish conference in May.