Friday, December 12, 2014

An Anniversary and a Christmas Letter

Getting to the one-year mark of my husband's passing and Christmas Eve all at one time is pretty overwhelming, I must say. Any time I have thought about describing how I've been feeling over the last few weeks, it really seems best summed up by the post I wrote at the six-month point--In the Middle of the Mess (All This Glory). I guess it's appropriate since one of the quotes I referenced mentioned how grief can have partial recurrences that make you wonder if you might be right back where you've already been and thought you had come through. Truthfully at times it feels like this season is the deepest grief I've experienced yet, although it's hard to really judge and compare as grief is such a complex entanglement of emotions, lots of back and forth, and not really much of anything like you'd think it would be or what people try to tell you.

However, in the midst of all of it, I want to remember the Reason for hope, the Source of true peace and joy, and the Reason to celebrate this season, even through tears. I decided to write a letter to include in some Christmas cards this year, and thought I would share it here as well. If you are taking the time to read this, please know that YOU are someone I am thanking God for as well, and this letter is for you, too. It means so much that you would share in my heart poured out onto a computer screen.


Dear friends and family,

I wanted to write to each of you to share a little of what’s on my heart in this season. Truthfully I had been thinking I wouldn’t be able to send Christmas cards this time, and surely if ever there were a year when people would understand if I didn’t, it would be this year. But I wanted to write to you for two main reasons:

First of all, I want to say THANK YOU for being such a blessing to us! Whether you have been close to Verlin, to me, or to both of us, your influence has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. I hate that it may not seem personal for you to get this as a type-written paper, but please know if you are reading this, I am thanking God for something personal and specific with you. Every visit, every card, every phone call or message, every person attending the visitation and/or funeral, every prayer, every hug, and every act of kindness have all been so meaningful to me, and I have felt inadequate in expressing thanks.  As difficult as this year has been and still is, maybe even more so right now, each expression of love and encouragement has touched my heart so deeply and uplifted my spirits with thanksgiving in my soul for you. Never think for a moment that a small act of kindness or word of encouragement can’t make a huge difference—it does!

Secondly, and even more importantly, I feel that remembering and sharing the greatest Gift we have been given is so vital in this season. In the midst of the most difficult grief and sorrow, we can have comfort because God sent His Son, Emmanuel, to be God with us, the Prince of Peace. Those aren’t just words. They are truths that flood my heart and bring hope, worship, and even joy to my soul. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tears and sadness, and plenty of them… but it does mean that this is not all there is. The hope that we have because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is worth celebrating and sharing in every season.

So I am praying for each of you to know the peace, love, hope, and joy of our Savior in this holiday season and throughout the New Year. Please keep me in your prayers as well. I am thankful for you!

                                                                                                Blessings in Christ,
                                                                                                            Ruth


“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, 
and the government will be on his shoulders. 
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taste and See

Every once in a while, a Bible study question gets you so fired up that you just have to share it. (And I think that's the way it's supposed to be!) This past week in Beth Moore's Children of the Day study, one of the lessons expanded on how God's Word speaks to us personally and equips us for our calling. Among other Scriptures, we were reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

At the conclusion of the lesson, she asked us to picture ourselves in the following scenario: "A friend or acquaintance is baffled by your love for the Bible and became a bit incredulous in a recent conversation. She asked you what you loved so much about it, but you were too caught off guard to respond thoughtfully. You sit down now to write her a letter. You don't have time for a lengthy diatribe or a quick course on Bible apologetics. You know you can't force her to understand. You simply want to convey in a paragraph what Scripture has meant to you personally." (Beth Moore, Children of the Day, p. 153)

She then leaves space for us to compose a letter of what we could write in response. I joked in our study group that brevity is not one of my spiritual gifts (as those of you who know me or have read this far are well-aware!), so mine was more than a paragraph, and I didn't take the time to read it during our discussion together. But it has continually pressed on my heart, and I feel led to share it with all of you. Truly it burns in my soul, as I want everyone to know how completely life-changing spending time with God in His Word can really be. So here is my "letter" of what flowed from my heart when faced with Beth's question:

Dear friend,

I can't even begin to explain to you how much this Book means to me. The very Word of God on a page for my hands to hold, my eyes to see, my heart to know-- what could be a more precious gift on this earth? I have had my eyes spill over with tears as I've touched the words to a Psalm with my hand and whispered to the Lord, "O Father, this is my prayer... the one I thought didn't have words... You gave it words and voiced the cry of my heart, acceptable and pleasing to You." I can read those words again and again, knowing God hears my cry and sees my heart, just as He saw the one He inspired to write those exact words in the first place.

Every page is filled with truth. It pours out comfort, hope, salvation, direction, instruction, correction, and so much more, all covered in grace to meet my heart and my need. Truly I am overcome with thankfulness and fresh awe even as I write these words. That the God of heaven would breathe out His words of life and make them available to me is more than I can begin to take in.

But here's the thing-- He wrote it with you in mind, too. He knows your heart. He knows your needs. And He knew your name before you were knit together in your mother's womb. He WILL speak to you. Just ask Him with a heart to seek Him, and then open His words and devour them. He will meet you there. He will remain true to His Word. It will not return void. He is faithful. Just taste and see.

I love you and long for you to truly know the One who loves you most...

Ruth

Human words seem so inadequate to describe the very Word of God. Yet the passion burns so deeply within me that I have to share. I'm praying that it will be contagious... that someone will be intrigued enough to want to dig in to God's Word with a renewed spirit or even for the first time. It can change your day and change your life. I know it has changed mine. It has carried me through many seasons, and God is using it to carry me through this one now, too. I am so thankful.

"When Your words came, I ate them;
   they were my joy and my heart's delight,
 for I bear Your name,
   O LORD God Almighty."  (Jeremiah 15:16)

I'd love it if anyone else would like to share a story or testimony of what God's Word means to you, too... Or if you have questions and want to ask more, I welcome those as well!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Seasons in the Garden

"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. 
He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." - Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV84)

I'm sitting out on my deck in the most beautiful weather imaginable, and this strange part of me is trying not to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Sigh. I've been intentionally soaking up every last bit of summer, but my heart is still not ready for the coming seasons. Somehow as I've gotten older, it seems I've become more and more of a summer person every year. I love spending time with children, swimming, long days, flip-flops, and walking at sunset without coming inside until 9:00 at night. This year it's been even more exaggerated as the fun times and smiles from children enjoying the time out of school have brought joy and delight to my soul in addition to a much-needed respite from some of the heaviness of grief. But the dread of fall and winter is now greater, too--shorter days, colder weather, more time inside and alone, avoided business that must be tackled now, coming holidays. . . Please don't mention the holidays. . . There's a part of me that thinks the first cold snap could make me want to lock myself in a closet somewhere to hibernate and not come out until mid-March. But I know that isn't the answer. . .

August was probably the nicest month I've had all year. . . Lots of plans and a few different mini-trips with kids, fun, and refreshment. Even better was the fact that as soon as one trip or activity was completed, I had another already scheduled to look forward to. But my last little trip of the summer was the one I knew had to last me a while.

A friend and I went to Memphis a few weeks ago for a Living Proof Live conference with Beth Moore speaking and Travis Cottrell leading in worship. If you've never heard Beth speak or done any of her Bible studies, I cannot recommend it highly enough--The way she shares the Word of God and brings home immediate application to daily living can help change a person's life! So I knew it would be wonderful, but one of my constant prayers leading up to the conference was, "Lord, I need so much to hear a fresh word from You that will last, not just something for an uplifting moment. I know the times ahead are going to be so difficult. . . Please keep speaking Your life into my heart."

Of course God answered this and so many of my prayers above and beyond what I could have even asked. Beth's message for the weekend involved the Scriptures from Mark 5 and Luke 8 on the healing of the demon-possessed man. The first night she had four points on what an environment would look like if the devil had his full way, and the next morning had four points on characteristics when Jesus has His full way. It was so good on so many levels.

The part that stood out to me the most from the Friday night was as she expanded on her first point, "Where Satan has his way, people live among tombs." She was not in any way discounting grief and made it clear that she was of course not referring to people visiting burial places of loved ones, as that can be comforting and healthy for many. But in elaborating, she talked about how Jesus, at His point of deepest sorrow and grief, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. She mentioned that in walking to that place with His disciples, they passed through the Kidron Valley, which was full of many tombs and graves. But He took His deepest sorrow to the Garden, which gave a visual of being surrounded by life in the midst of His grief. She encouraged us that even though we will pass through the tombs, we can take our sorrow to the garden and still be encompassed by life in the middle of it, even as we pour out our breaking hearts and tears to God.

Part of it was encouraging because I feel like that's what I've already been trying to do in many ways. I intentionally make an effort to surround myself with reminders of life and joy as God leads and provides. . . spending time with children, singing and praising the Lord, studying His Word, serving at church, volunteering with hospice. . . (Seriously, hospice is a ministry of life-- it's a huge blessing and joy for me to be involved in even a small part of that ministry.)

All of these things have been wonderful as God has used them to uplift my heart and keep me going. But I feel like her words were a huge reminder for me to hold on to that in the coming season as my heart was already starting to sink in its anticipation. . . When fall and winter come, and it looks like everything is dying outside and in, there is still life. There is still sunshine, even if it is more limited. There is still manna with God's provision every single morning. There is still joy if I open my eyes and seek the Lord enough to notice it. But I have to keep making the trek to get to that garden. I can pour out my soul and cry out my tears, but then I can get up and still see the life around me in this place.

The final point Beth made on the second day was, "Where Jesus has His way, people go and tell their stories." We see this in Luke 8:39 where the man went back home and "told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." And it's something I feel called to do in this season as well--it's been pressed on my heart over and over in different ways and situations. I even jotted to the side of my notes for that section, "WRITE!!" and have that in the margins of a couple of Bible study pages I've done over the last few months, too. The truth of the matter is I have no idea what telling my story is supposed to look like right now. Writing is a painstakingly slow process for me, and even this blog post is not at all coming together the way I thought it would. (You know that beautiful weather I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well, that was Monday, and today is Friday. . . not to mention WAY too cold now for September!)

I feel like I'm completely in the middle of the tangled-up mess of processing grief and too much other life-change and relationship-shifting on top of it, but somehow I'm still supposed to share the hope and joy I have right here, with no pretty bows or tied-up answers. Because there really is joy here, even now. But if I'm not open about the heaviness and difficulty of it all sometimes, the gift of joy is not able to be as clearly recognized, either.

To be honest, I know how to do the "pretend everything is OK and put a fake smile on your face" kind of living. I learned it young, and I learned it well. And I can still retreat to it in a moment when I don't feel safe. This is way out of my comfort zone. (And WINGS girls, many of the things I write to you with our study are definitely WAY too out there for me, too!)

But I've learned that being vulnerable in sharing is necessary not only for my own health, but also in being able to minister to others. The people who have helped me grow in Christ the most are ones who I've seen be honest with struggles but continuing to seek the Lord in prayer and holding to faith in the midst of everything. It's hard to relate to someone if things seem too easy, but lots of people can relate to having some kind of difficulty where faith is tested but can also come alive more than ever.

So this blog post may have gotten way off track, but I'm going to be brave and post it rather than delete it and try to start over. It may not be what I had in mind, but it is a step in the process of telling my story and sharing what God is doing. I'd like to encourage you to think about what God is doing in your life right now, too, and how you might be able to share it with someone. Or if you don't know about having a personal relationship with God or how He cares about you and can fill your life, I'd love to tell you about that, too--you can ask me anytime.

There is so much more I really would love to share about the conference and the blessings of that weekend. . . Did I mention Travis brought his whole choir?? Do you know how much I LOVE choir??!! Just ask my friend who had to take a picture of how excited I was to sit just two seats and an aisle away from them the second day! :) . . . And then Beth prayed for the widows and those who were grieving in attendance that Saturday as well. It touched my heart so much. . . I even wrote her on Twitter about it, and she wrote me back! (Have I mentioned I love Twitter, too??) It's all more than I can really take in, which is another reason I need to write, remember, and thank God again for His provision.

But now in the middle of the grief as the changing seasons get harder, I will come to the garden and remember life. There is life here and there is even better life for eternity to come. There is also beauty in every season--I know this, but I have to open my heart to the possibility of seeing it. I want to be like that tree planted by the water. . . trusting in the Lord, letting my roots grow down into Him, having leaves always green, and never failing to bear fruit no matter the season. O Lord, let that be true of me--for Your glory. Amen.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In the Middle of the Mess (All This Glory)

I never really know how to begin a blog post, especially when I let this much time go between posts! But here goes. . . I must say that the past six months have been filled with more emotion in more directions than I could even begin to describe. So before I can write anything else, here is just a little insight from others who have lost a spouse to give a glimpse into what it can often feel like in this season of grief:
"I remember being lost at nearly everything in my life for more than a year post loss. I remember failing miserably at the little things in my life like returning an email or answering a phone call. Often times the energy it took to write an email or carry on a conversation was more than I could take, and so it just went left undone. Grief is exhausting on a level I can not put into words, my body was tired, my brain was tired, my soul was very, very, tired. It may have appeared on the outside that all was well, but on the inside I secretly wanted to escape every aspect of my life that resembled life before loss." 1
"It turns out that Hollywood has grief and loss all wrong. The waves and spikes don't arrive predictably in time or severity. . . It's not sobbing, collapsing, moaning grief. It's phantom-limb pain. It aches, it throbs, there's nothing there, and yet you never want it to go away." 2
"Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. . . not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat." 3
"For in grief nothing 'stays put.' One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. . .
How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, 'I never realized my loss till this moment'?" 4
"People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as 'dwelling on it.' We understand the aversion most of us have to 'dwelling on it.'. . .  'A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty,' Philippe Ari├Ęs wrote to the point of this aversion in Western Attitudes toward Death. 'But one no longer has the right to say so out loud.'" 5
None of these descriptions seems sufficient. Yet each helps paint a little bit of a picture of how I feel or have felt at times. I think it is good to see them in words, especially when our society tends to want to ignore grief and pain or at least "get over it" as soon as possible. But the truth is it takes time for reality to set in, and that reality is even harder now than it was a few months ago.

Time and again I find myself coming back to the question, "So what does 'grieving with hope' look like here?" I always think of that phrase because of the Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 as well as the Steven Curtis Chapman song "With Hope" from several years ago. Then Beth Moore expanded on the verse in her newest Bible study by saying, "So let us grieve when we must, but God forbid that we grieve as the hopeless do." 6

God forbid that we would grieve as the hopeless do.

That thought continually resonates with me and stirs up in my soul, but I don't always know how to live it out. At first it seemed more simple-- of course I have hope for my husband. I know he is with the Lord. I know I will see him again someday. And truly those are HUGE comforts. They give peace to my heart and provide for joy in the midst of pain. 

But as time goes on, the more difficult task seems to be finding hope for myself. The reality of the loss sinks in more and more every day, and it feels like grief is just beginning. My entire life has changed, and very few people have any understanding of that. Even fewer want to talk about it or listen to it (again). The loneliness is overwhelming and at times consuming. So often I feel like the only thing I want in the world is just to see my husband's sweet smile when I walk in the door. . . to have someone to hug me and sit with me when I'm ready to relax at the end of the day. Someone who just always wants to be with me. And that's on a good day! When I'm hurting or discouraged about something else (as the rest of life somehow goes on and doesn't seem to let you only grieve one thing at a time), I suddenly realize how much comfort and security he had provided for me in lots of different ways. Now that is gone as well, and it can feel like too much.

So why do I write all this, and where is the hope? I've felt more called to write than ever recently yet less capable of writing than ever, too. As I finally decided to give in and open up my computer, the thoughts started pouring in again-- "How can you try to give anyone else hope when you're in the middle of a mess and often can't see the way out yourself?" 

Ugh.

But in a moment the opening lyrics to this song I hadn't heard in quite some time came to the forefront of my mind:
In the middle of the mess, there is majesty.
In the middle of my chest, is the King of Kings.
While the world was waiting on
A change to come along,
Light broke in
Coming like a song.
from All This Glory by David Crowder Band (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPUOjtTzyQY)

I was reminded that even in the middle of all of this, there is the majesty of God's light shining. 

And even now there is still the mystery of "Christ in [me], the hope of glory." (See Colossians 1:27.) The King of Kings desires to live inside of His children. . . How can we not be encouraged?

To undermine the difficulty of it all would also undermine the greatness of the hope that we have. So we can be honest about the struggle and the messiness of it to let His majesty more fully shine through.

In one of the teaching sessions for Children of the Day, Beth Moore quoted her pastor (and son-in-law) Curtis Jones to say, "Whatever you're going through, leverage it for the Kingdom." It was a simple statement but one that has continued to stick with me. I don't always know what this looks like from day to day. But I do know where my hope is found. And I can always share that. 

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." (Romans 5:5)

I can't resist one more Beth Moore quote to conclude, as it is so fitting: "Faith is a game changer. Know that to your bones. . . 
We are not just like everybody else breathing the world's toxic air. Our flight has been hijacked by hope." 8

Yes. I am so thankful. . .
And I pray that the light of hope in Christ always shines through for His glory.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1 Michelle Steinke, onefitwidow.com/a-new-me/
2 Cancer Doctor Peter Bach on Losing His Wife to Cancer, New York Magazine, "The Day I Started Lying to Ruth"
3 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 60
4 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 56-57
5 Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, ©2005, p. 192
6 Beth Moore, Children of the Day, ©2014, p. 105
7 Beth Moore, Children of the Day, ©2014, teaching session 2
8 Beth Moore, Children of the Day, ©2014, p. 22



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Because He Turned His Ear to Me. . .

I've been wanting to write this post for over two weeks but am just now sitting down to do it. Of course, every post I've ever written has been at least that long running through my head before making it to the computer, if it ever even gets there. But this one seems fitting for me to write on a snow day, if for no other reason than as a reminder for myself. Snowed-in days have been some of the hardest to deal with since Verlin died (except for Valentine's weekend, which is a story all its own!). You'd think I'd be used to them by now with all the practice we've had this winter and all the time I've had to prepare myself and plan to have a good balance of rest and productivity. But somehow once the reality hits that I really am going to be inside by myself all day, it makes me want to just sit and cry and miss my sweetheart. And truly I need to take time to do just that sometimes, but it is still hard.

Part of me wants to go back and delete the entire first paragraph since it's really not the point. But the reason I will keep it is to hopefully add a little credibility to the rest of this post. Because who doesn't have struggles, and who wants to listen to anyone whose life seems to be easy and unrelatable?

But I wanted to share a Scripture that has been so meaningful to me for many years and completely hit me afresh recently. One of the things I love about God's Word is how even a familiar passage can speak volumes and feel like a "now" word from the Lord in a particular season. That's just one of many reasons why it is so important and beneficial to keep reading and studying the Bible always. And it explains how I can feel like the study I'm doing right now is exactly what I need to be reading even though I already did the same one 10 years ago. This Psalm has actually been on my refrigerator for even a couple of years longer than that. It was in the conclusion to a simple Bible study book I had borrowed from a friend (shortly before either of us had even heard of Beth Moore!) as I was going through a difficult time but in some ways was just beginning to realize more of the depth of daily relationship Christ offers us through prayer and His Word.

As I got to the end of the study in just a couple of weeks and read that Psalm, I can remember being overcome by every word and just the sheer grace of God to desire to hear my prayers and be in relationship with me. I printed it out on cardstock, kept in on my refrigerator, and practically memorized it in the weeks to follow, even as I continued to go through other studies. And though I have read it many times since, it completely caught me afresh a couple of weeks ago in the study I'm doing now. It was in the middle of several other Psalms we read in a row in that particular lesson, but it stopped me dead in my tracks. I want to share it because I feel like this is my testimony-- it's where I've been and where I am now and where I am going. Because the God of the universe turned His ear to me, I will keep calling on Him. I will tell of His goodness. I will give Him thanks. And I will testify of all He has done and all He is doing. I pray you will be blessed as you read it and know He hears your voice as well.

     I love the LORD, for He heard my voice;
        He heard my cry for mercy.
     Because He turned His ear to me,
        I will call on Him as long as I live.
     The cords of death entangled me,
        the anguish of the grave came upon me;
        I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
     Then I called on the name of the LORD:
        "O LORD, save me!"

     The LORD is gracious and righteous;
        our God is full of compassion.
     The LORD protects the simplehearted;
        when I was in great need, He saved me.

     Be at rest once more, O my soul,
        for the LORD has been good to you.

     For You, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death,
        my eyes from tears,
        my feet from stumbling,
     that I may walk before the LORD
        in the land of the living.
     I believed; therefore I said,
        "I am greatly afflicted."
     And in my dismay I said,
        "All men are liars."

     How can I repay the LORD 
        for all His goodness to me?
     I will lift up the cup of salvation
        and call on the name of the LORD.
     I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
        in the presence of all His people.

     Precious in the sight of the LORD
        is the death of His saints.
     O LORD, truly I am Your servant;
        I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant,
        You have freed me from my chains.

     I will sacrifice a thank offering to You
        and call on the name of the LORD.
     I will fulfill my vows to the LORD 
        in the presence of all His people,
     in the courts of the house of the LORD
        in your midst, O Jerusalem.

     Praise the LORD!

             - Psalm 116 (NIV84)