“…any God worth believing in is the God not only of the immensities of the galaxies I rejoice in at night when I walk the dogs, but also the God who cares about the sufferings of us human beings and is here, with us, for us, in our pain and in our joy… I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights.” -Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle
This song has taken on new meaning for me this year. In peace and in sorrow, He is there. He is here.
It is providential that it was the hymn I read this past Sunday afternoon, still going through Aunt Marie’s hymnal. The story of this hymn was briefly mentioned that morning at church. You can read about it HERE.
Last year, my dear friend, Jeannie, gave me a necklace inscribed with this song title. It has become precious to me. I thank God for people like Horatio Spafford and Jeannie.
“Displaced souls roam every city in every country.” – Ilana Manaster, One of the Crowd, Real Simple – 2017
I know what it feels like to be a displaced soul. I felt pretty much like that the whole six years we lived in Birmingham. It was a beautiful place, but it was never home. I don’t mean to dishonor Chuck when I say that, because where he was, that was home for me. But, I think he felt the same way. We both felt uprooted.
Now I’m “home”, but he’s not here, and once again I don’t quite feel at home. But it’s different, because I do have family here, and numerous friends. I’m in the town where I grew up. It’s changed a lot, but still familiar. The Maxwell House Coffee drifting across the St. Johns River smells the same. The ocean, though constantly changing, is the same. I can still drive by my childhood home and my high school.
So now, as I prepare to move for the third time in less than a year, I think about how to put down roots in Tampa. God willing, I won’t move again. I long to live there and serve God to the end of my days. To make a home for my family, my friends, and other sojourners, for I have to remind myself that, ultimately, I’m just a sojourner on this earth.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar offwere assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. Hebrews 11:13-14
“The minor characters in your life will step into the foreground and shine.” – Sheryl Sandberg
There have been some women who have stepped into the foreground for me. They are not minor characters, but they have been in the background of my life for a while.
Like Lee, my sorority Big Sister in college, who I had not seen for over 40 years. She stepped right back into my life by coming to Chuck’s funeral, all the way from Georgia. We’ve met for lunch and spent the day together catching up on all the years gone by.
Like Jeannie, who I also met over 40 years ago when Chuck and I were dating. She has been so very kind to me, meeting for lunch and giving me books and gifts to show her love and sympathy.
Like Judy, who calls and writes and lets me know I am always in her prayers. Our friendship doesn’t go back so far, but she is a Christian sister who cares. She doesn’t just post “praying” on social media, but when she says she’s praying I know she really is.
Like Crystal, another newer friend, who writes nice chatty letters to let me know all the big and little things going on with her family. She shares her life with me and shows her concern for me.
Like Peggy, who lives in Auburndale but stays connected and checks on me. She sometimes brings along her husband, Tom, who is also a dear friend. They were great friends to Chuck and I and I’m so thankful for them still.
Like Debbie, who was in my Brownie troop when we were in 2nd/3rd grades. We went to church together through our teens and were in each others weddings. Then, time and miles kept us apart. But, we have reconnected, from Ohio to Florida, and had supper after 20 years and fell right into our friendship again.
Like Darla, who I bonded with when we taught school together. She has made it a point to keep in touch. Her life is full to the brim with grandchildren, but she has made time for me.
That’s the thing – time. It’s not always easy or convenient, but it’s important to make time for the ones we love. For the ones who need our love.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” – Romans 1:8
I am so grateful to God for the ones He has put in my life who still pray for me. On those nights when it seems so dark, I know that I have been sustained by prayers. I know that God hears others when I can’t find words. Then, in the morning, I am able to go on. I am able to pray for guidance and pray for those I love, both family and friends.
The above card was from my high school friend, Jenny. She knows loss. She can empathize because she knows. And when she says she’s praying, I know it’s not just empty words. She wrote, “I pray that God will give you the fortitude to bear his loss.” God is answering her prayer every day.
“As God’s love is lavished on you, give this love away lavishly to others. Let the love of Christ that is in you be split over into the lives of the people around you.” – from The Undistracted Widow By Carol Cornish
I am not familiar with this hymn, but it brought to mind not just those who mourn, but many who are cast down. Last week I delivered food to three people who have Covid-19. Two of these people, a couple, also have family members with numerous health issues. I am blessed right now with good health. I thank God he has kept me healthy and I pray for these loved ones that they, too, might be restored to good health.
“The friends whom the freshness of your grief has gathered around you, will forget your loss much sooner than you will; and the force of their sympathy will have spent itself, long before the tide of your grief has ceased to flow. Few, very few, are the faithful friends whose tender interest is as long-lived and as deep, as our tribulation.” – The Widow Directed to the Widow’s God by John Angell James, 1841
I am blessed to have friends who still gather around me. They call, text, invite me to lunch. Their sympathy has not spent itself. I am thankful for their tender interest.
Yes, I’ve written tons of poems about my love for Chuck, our relationship, and his love for me. But, this is a different one, not written by me. It was written by our friend, Dorothy Young, who wrote it when we left Jacksonville/Fruit Cove in 2014 for Birmingham. She gave him a framed copy when we moved. It hung in his home office in Bham and I’ll hang it again when I get to Tampa. Dorothy and Chuck had a special friendship, as evidenced in her words. She included it in her book, Loved from Eternity.
I’ve thought a lot about widowhood and ministry the past few months. I mentioned it in an earlier blog post HERE . I’ve been saddened to see how other widows, not just me, have been neglected by the church. Widows who were and are faithful church members. Widows who have lost their husbands of many years, who were also faithful servants of God. One whose husband was a retired pastor himself. But where is the church in all of this? Even if these widows aren’t “widows indeed” they still need to be ministered to. At least checked on now and again by their pastor or elder or deacon.
“The Bible has much to say about ministering to one another besides the giving of money…If you assume she (the widow) is fine just because she attends worship each Sunday, you are failing in your ministry to her. Regular visits at her home are the best way to fulfill the James 1 command… It is also the best way to know her and to interact with her so that she will feel comfortable divulging other needs.” – The Undistracted Widow by Carol Cornish
In my case it took me being the “squeaky wheel” to receive a call. Part of me felt ashamed, felt that I should be able to go it alone. I have brothers and children, so why was I complaining? Don’t get me wrong, my family and some friends have been a HUGE help and comfort to me. Yet, when it came to spiritual things, I wasn’t sure where to turn. I ended up pouring out feelings to a former pastor, one with a shepherd’s heart. And God, in His mercy, helped me.
The Lord intended for His church to be a support system, but we can’t be a support system if we don’t know each other.” – Leaving Darkland by Ed Wallen
I see now that not knowing each other is one big hindrance. I see that it is a two-way street, one I hope to travel and become the one who ministers to other weary travelers.
There is a song that’s been on my playlist for quite a few years: One Small Year by Shawn Colvin. As often happens, I now hear it much differently when I listen to it.
One small year
It's been an eternity
It's taken all of me to get here
In this one small year
The hands of time
They pushed me down the street
They swept me off my feet to this place
And I don't know my fate
Now through the night
I can pretend
The morning will make me whole again
I can begin
To wait for the night again
I know this has been but one small year in view of all history and in God’s eyes. But, for me, for so many, it seems in copious ways to have been “an eternity”. It truly has taken all of me to get here. But I could not have done it alone. Yes, humanly speaking, I was alone for so much of it, but I have not truly been alone. God has lifted me up when I could not see through the tears. Friends have checked on me. Family have loved on me. The printed word has renewed me, God’s Word has comforted me.
I don’t know my fate in the sense of what the next year will hold. I know my final fate, my end, in Christ. I have to take that knowledge, that hope, and keep going.
The above pictures were taken as we were preparing to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal in 2014. Just as we were about to sit down to eat, we got the call. Chuck and Danny’s dad was failing fast. They wolfed down some food, packed up and headed for Jacksonville, arriving just 15 minutes after their dad died. My father-in-law.
Now, six years later, I’ve lost three more. My mother-in-law (2017), my mom (2018), my husband (2020). Precious people who sat together for many Thanksgivings. Family who ate, told stories, laughed, loved each other.
Holidays can be hard. We miss the hugs at the front door, the smiles across the table, the hand holding, the traditions. But, we have to press on. No matter how hard a hand we’ve been dealt, there are still blessings.
Yesterday I had Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my daughters, Kat and Leah, and some of their friends. We gathered at Kat’s, and she is always the most gracious hostess.It was different, but it was good. Let me tell you about our little group.
Tim: a professional chef, Leah’s former roommate, who made the most delicious turkey I think I’ve ever had on Thanksgiving, plus some fabulous sides.
Candace: I hadn’t seen her since July. Having lost her mother to cancer, she was a big help to us when we were struggling with Chuck’s illness.
Justin and Leslie: Kat’s neighbors, California transplants, who made the best assortment of deviled eggs and laughed with us all day.
PJ: a friend of Justin and Leslie, who came in later in the afternoon with his precious Springer spaniel, Buddy.
Ruby and Poka: ever present underfoot, waiting for head pats and crumbs to fall.
We made sure to have some of our traditional family dishes: potato casserole- the recipe came from my brother’s mother-in-law years ago; a pepper cheese ball – Aunt Brenda’s recipe, miraculously made by Leah, the non-cook; Wassail; pickle tray; traditional and puppy chow Chex mixes.
For all those family we could not be with, I say in the words of Paul:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Philippians 1:3