Finding Joy

From the end of July to the end of September I was in the US with friends and family. God was so gracious to allow me this time and I am thankful for the healing and encouragement I experienced during this time.

A special gift was having the entire family minus Erik (who stayed in Germany to be the best man at his friend’s wedding) together for a weekend.

Shortly before I came home, I was overwhelmed with the difficulty of facing coming home knowing Fred will never be here again. I felt like I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say good-bye to my daughters and their families again, I couldn’t come home and continue living without my husband. God reminded me of the verse in Philippians–I can do all things through Christ. Again, I was reminded of how important my focus is. When I focus on my pain, it can swallow me up. Focusing on Jesus is the only was to find peace, joy and hope.

So thankful to have Travis as my travel buddy on the way home. And, so thankful to have Erik here to welcome us home

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Ada Joy

The beginning of January when Fred was home between hospital visits, Kassandra and Aaron let us know they were expecting a baby the end of August. Fred was so thrilled. It is sad for me that she will never meet him and the younger grandchildren will not remember meeting him. He loved being Opi to our precious grandchildren. Yet, life goes on, there is a time to be born and a time to die. Fred left this earth in February and Ada Joy joined our family on August 22nd. The name Ada comes from the German form of nobility, and Joy is a promise that she will bring joy–which she already has.

God has graciously allowed me to be in the US during this time. I spent time with my brothers in Minnesota, ten days with Heidi and family in Maryland, I got to witness Ada being born and now have time to help Kassandra with daily life, as well as hang out with Julianna and family.

My heart is still aching with the loss of my dear husband, but I must choose my focus each day. I can focus on my pain or I can focus on God’s many gifts.

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Memories of long ago

When I was about 8 years old, my Great-grandma Olson died. It is odd that random memories of that time recently came to me. She had a stroke and when we went to visit, I think we kids were not allowed to go back to her bedroom. I heard her “laughing” but I figured out later that she was actually crying. I have no idea how much longer she lived after that, but I do remember the funeral. I remember standing at the casket wanting to touch her, but being scared to. Great-grandpa came in at the end, glanced at the casket and took his place on the front row. After the service at the funeral home, the family went to Great-grandpa’s house–a little house in Jefferson, Wisconsin. At one point, I remember going into the kitchen, Great-grandpa sat in a chair all by himself in the corner while the rest of the family laughed and carried on in the other rooms. I remember wanting to comfort him but I dind’t know how to.

A few years later, when I was 12, my Grandpa Virtue had a heart-attack and died within a few hours. There were the days of the viewing, then the funeral. Lots of days hanging out with family, with nothing to do. After the funeral, we drove over an hour to the cemetery and then back to the church for a luncheon. I remember sitting with Grandma, which is kind of odd that I didn’t sit with my cousins or anyone closer to my age. Grandma was sitting with old friends, and I didn’t really fit in, but maybe in the back of my mind I wanted to make sure she wasn’t alone. She seemed so old at the time, yet she was only 10 years older than I was when I became a widow.

Pondering if God made me sensitive, even at a very young age, to people losing their spouse. There are many times I feel alone, yet I am reminded, “When you feel alone, you are not alone, I (God) am right beside you.”

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Engraved in God’s hands

It is just crazy when a Bible verse pops up more than once, but recently, I had the same verse pop up 3 different times, in 3 books I was reading!

The message of this verse is that God is holding me in the palms of His hands. He holds me so tight that I am imprinted on his palms. Even when life is topsy-turvy, the future uncertain, and tears are running down my face, I KNOW I am being held by my heavenly Father. That is true comfort!

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My grace

The other morning, something I read, led to a song that I wanted to listen to, which led to me re-watching part of the celebration of life for Fred. My heart broke in a thousand pieces to see my children standing together in the church sharing about their daddy. They are so young to be without a daddy, so young to deal with grief on this kind of a level. God spoke to me–and as always it is so gentle and I can feel His arms holding me–He told me that I do not have and will not have the grace my children need to be without a daddy, but THEY will have all the grace they need. I have grace to deal with my pain and sorrow, but I only have grace for my hurt.

Meanwhile, as I continue to pick up the pieces of shattered dreams and a broken heart, God is near and is mending me. I thank God for little rays of sunshine in the past few months that have brought joy!

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God’s great love

On days when my heart still feels like it is breaking in two, there have been several times when I have Googled verses on God’s love. These are verses that I have known for years, but when my mind isn’t thinking straight, I need reminders. Reminders that God has this whole story of my life in His hands and that His love for me is far beyond what I can comprehend.

A quote I recently read: “Holding on to fears is to delay the comfort of God.” When I am aware of God’s great love, how can I hold on to fear instead of running into His arms to find peace and comfort.

A special blessing this past week was our church bike ride on Ascension Day. I am thankful for my church family and also for the beauty of northern Germany.

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Being thankful

Back about 27 years ago, I had my 3rd miscarriage within 18 months. A dear older lady in the church we were in at the time, asked me if I had thanked God. I was shocked, to say the least! What a thing to ask someone who is struggling. But, aren’t we told to be thankful in all things? I remember thanking God that I already had 2 beautiful children–I know many women who have never had the joy of having their own child. In every situation, there are things for which we can be thankful. In EVERY situation.

Ten years ago, I was told I should read the book “One Thousand Gifts,” by Ann Voskamp. In her book, Ann tells of the challenge to write down 1,000 things for which she was thankful. You have to dig deep if you are going to do that. It doesn’t work just to say, “I am thankful for my family, my church, my house, etc.” I accepted that challenge, and within 10 months had finished my list of 1,000 things for which I was thankful. It had become a part of my life to write things down each morning, so I kept at it. Right now I am getting close to the 15,000 mark in my thankful journals. Little did I realize that this habit of finding the good and seeing God’s gifts to me, would carry me through the most difficult time of my life. Even as Fred was suffering physically and then left this earth to spend the rest of eternity in the presence of Jesus, God brought to my mind so many things for which I could thank Him.

Here are a few things I am thankful for when I think specifically of Fred’s death:

–he was longing for heaven!

–God healed him completely

–my children to help me get through the days when I was numb with pain

–my church family and friends around the world who poured love and prayers into me

–cards and messages

–friends who helped with the hard tasks (like calling the funeral home or hospital)

–even though we were still dealing with COVID, I could visit him in the hospital

–music to calm my heart

–assurance that Fred is with Jesus

As I continue on a path I did not choose, I will choose to be thankful and see the goodness of God on my life!

Thankful for a little trip to London with Erik.

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In June, it will be 37 years ago that I met Fred, and 35 years ago that we got married. That is a lot of years of memories! A booklet on grief gave the idea of writing down memories, one-liners of the loved one who died. I tend to be a person who lives in the future–always thinking ahead to what is coming next, what needs to be done, what I can’t forget, so I usually don’t dwell on memories. But, this is a whole new “ball game!” How can I not remember when Fred’s presence is still felt in every inch of our house, when I interact with our children and grandchildren, when I serve in the church where we served together for so many years. Our lives were intertwined and we lived and worked as a team.

Here are a few memories:

–Thursdays were our day off. For years now, we went out to breakfast and sat and talked each Thursday morning.

–Most recently, we joined a gym together. I loved the time to talk in the car on the way there and the way home and also working on fitness together.

–Praying together and deep, rich conversations about what we were learning from God were a normal part of our lives.

–Each year we went away for a few days together alone. When the children were small, it was often only one night and a lot of work to make the time away happen, but these get-aways did wonders for our marriage.

–Our home has open doors for people. I have no idea how many people have sat around our table for a meal over the years. Fred didn’t just expect me to do the work by myself. He helped me with the grocery shopping and although I am the cook in the family, he was willing to wash, peel, chop, or whatever needed doing. Then (especially on Sunday mornings) he would send me off to get ready while he cleaned up the kitchen.

–Laughter was a big part of our lives. Our children often said that we laughed at each other a lot and I think that is true. But, laughter makes life easier!

–Music has always been a huge part of my life. Fred didn’t think of listening to music except for occasionally having Kassandra’s piano music playing in the background while he worked at his computer. However, the last few months of his life, we listed to music together while we cried and clung to God. Fred’s favorite song was “It Is Well with My Soul.” The last few months, we often ended our prayers together by saying, “it is well, with our souls.”

Yes, God, it is well with my soul, and I thank You for memories!

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Saturday I attended a wedding. Being a widow for 10 weeks with the grief still fresh on my heart, I wondered if going to a wedding was a good idea, but the bride is a dear friend and I knew God would give me grace–which He did.

God also used the wedding to remind me of His desire that I rejoice with those who rejoice. Not just a newly wed couple, but also my many friends who still have their spouse. Yes, I am the one alone, the one not sitting next to my husband, the one missing the presence of my dearest friend on earth. But, I dare not let my heart grow bitter and be jealous of those who still have their spouse.

God also reminded me that I need to accept the fact that I am a widow. I did not choose this and I have often reminded God that I don’t want to be a widow. But, is actuality, with that statement I am telling God that I do not want what He has chosen for me, that I know better, that His plan is a bad one. God has been so loving and gracious to me, and even in this, I do not feel like He is beating me with a stick, but rather gathering me in His arms and telling me to trust Him and His plan. God knows that my heart still aches and He understands. God knows I miss my husband, but His presence surrounds me. It is still hard for me to say, “Thank you, God, that my husband is dead.” But I am to the point where I can say, “Thank you, God, that Your plan is a good one, that You have me in your arms, and that Your love is surrounding me.”

These boys have been a huge blessing to me!

Spring time!

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Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Easter Sunday, Fred was singing praises in heaven. Each time I am overcome with grief, just remembering that he finished his course–the goal of all of us as believers in Jesus is to gain heaven. Fred is also no longer burdened with pain, itching, medication, doctor’s visits, and the cares of this world. Even little things like taking out the trash, or paying taxes, or dealing with difficult people are all things of this earth. He doesn’t have to be concerned about war or inflation or shortage of flour and oil. If he was given an opportunity to return to earth, would he? I doubt it! And I do not blame him or doubt that he loved me deeply. So, I choose to rejoice that Fred is perfectly whole and perfectly holy. Hallelujah!

God has used many things to speak to me in the last months: music, friends, books, the Bible, sensing His presence in nature. One book I read is “Suffering: It Is Never for Nothing,” by Elisabeth Elliot. This quote spoke to me: ” . . . everything can be seen as a gift, even my widowhood. I began very slowly to recognize, after my first husband was killed, that it was within the context of widowhood that God wanted me to glorify Him. It was not my idea. It was something that God not only allowed, but in a very real sense, which I began to slowly understand, He had given me because He had something else in mind. And this was a gift not just for me, but also for the life of the world in some mysterious sense that I did not need to understand because I could trust Him.”

I, like Elisabeth Elliot, did not choose widowhood. It is not my idea of how my life should look. But, God asks me to glorify Him in my widowhood. I choose to trust Him completely and let Him write my story.

Spring flowers are starting to pop. A great reminder that my God is faithful. A new grandbaby is due in August. There is a lot I miss about having Fred gone, but there is so much God is giving me in this new season of life.

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