Wednesday, August 28, 2019

My Anchor Holds

This past weekend we attended a conference at a camp. I was told multiple times that I was brave to go with my children without Ed. But the encouragement I was given from the sermons, small group prayer time, and fellowship was worth any effort. 

To gather, and sing, and pray, and hear from God's Word with hundreds of believers from around the US was soul medicine. 

The theme of the weekend was Heroes of the Faith. We learned about men and women from Hebrews 11 and in church history up to the present time who followed Christ even in very difficult circumstances. Their stories were both convicting and inspiring.

Our family stayed in tents and enjoyed the perfect camping weather, not too hot and not too cold. Most of our meals were eaten in the dining hall, but we had brought some bagels for an early morning breakfast. Toaster cords are too short for campsites.

On Sunday morning the youth sang for us. One of the songs they sang was "Will Your Anchor Hold."

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love.

I needed the reminder this past weekend to plant my faith deeply into God and His Word since we've been hit by another storm. I don't usually like to be attached to my cell phone, but this weekend I kept it close to get updates on Ed's niece Kimberly.

For the past three years, Kim has been getting progressively weaker. Even with multiple doctors and endless tests, her disease remained undiagnosed. Those who were at Ed's funeral may have noticed Kimberly in a wheelchair. It seemed impossible that an eighteen-year-old could have deteriorated so much. 

Last week Kim contracted pneumonia. In her weakened health, the doctors didn't give much hope. Kim started asking for songs of heaven and saying that she just wanted to see Jesus. She was able to be stabilized and return home where she passed away peacefully early this morning.  

We never imagined three months ago that our family would face another funeral so soon. Long-time readers may remember that this is the fourth death in Ed's family in less than ten years. (Ed's dad in October 2009, Ed's brother-in-law in June 2011, Ed in May 2019, and now Kim.) Ed's mom is taking this hard. I'd like to rant at the unfairness of it all. 

But then I remember the faith of believers through the centuries who suffered unimaginable pain because of their faith in Christ. The God who helped them not deny their Lord and bring Him glory will help me do the same.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
Be still, and know that I am God...I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46: 1-3, 10)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Summer Deluge

A friend told me recently that her dad, a new widower, found it hard to go to social events. I understand why it would seem easier to stay at home. I've talked to widows who didn't go to church for weeks. I think that if I lived alone, I might be tempted to become a hermit.

But that wasn't an option for me. My children love social life.  I hear, "What are we going to do tonight?" almost before they are out of bed. If I suggested staying home when there were options on the calendar, I'd have mutiny.

But then, I like people and enjoy new experiences, so I'm usually joining my children in the desire to plan activities.

In a typical summer, there would be evenings we would stay at home. Maybe Ed wanted to mow the grass, or do some other home project. Maybe he had to study for a sermon or just wanted a quiet evening at home.

But this year there was nothing holding us back. If we were home all day, why not go away in the evening? If we decided to go to the park in the afternoon, grab some supper, and not get back to bedtime, there was no reason we couldn't.

I've been struggling with a complete lack of routine this summer. I realize I fit my life around Ed's schedule. What time does he need breakfast before leaving for work? When will Ed get home? Could he fit that event into his Saturday or should I decline?

But none of those questions apply anymore.

The result is that we have meals at all hours, spend whole days away, and have fit more events into one summer than usual. Some things that have been our routine for years, such as waffles every Wednesday morning, we've suddenly quit.

Sometimes I worry that I'm filling the missing hole that Ed left with busyness. I know that some widows turn to shopping, or food, or alcohol when they lose their husband. Am I staying busy to replace Ed and keep from mourning? Is this a healthy way to deal with grief? Will we get to the quiet days of winter and fall apart?

Or has it been a summer when friends and family want to show they care by spending time with us? Are we making up time for the things we couldn't do the last two years? Is our search for joy in the middle of grief driving us to spend more time together?

I have more questions than answers.

But I do know, that when I look through the photos of the last weeks, I do see joy.

And I am grateful.

Here's a glimpse.

Many Tuesdays found us at a city park playing games with the children. My children loved these evenings and hopefully some of the contacts will help my brother's new church.

I should have kept a list of all the things that I did for the first time this year. There were big things concerning finances and the small things like grilling steak. Ed did so many things that I took for granted. But it hasn't hurt us to tackle new projects like homemade ice cream.

So many events bring back memories of the last time that we did this with Ed. 

Last year Ed wasn't feeling good but...

...he played an inning of softball at the church picnic.

...went to the Allegany Boys Camp Open House.

...helped us dig and sort potatoes.

Now we do these things alone and just remember.

My youngest daughter didn't remember taking bike rides. 

We enjoyed a ride with my sister and her husband on the York Heritage Trail. 

A couple weeks later we went with Ed's brothers and their families on part of the Great Allegheny Passage. It had been years since we biked this beautiful rail trial.

We also had experiences that were new. Such as a history tour of local Anabaptist sites. 

We were the only locals in this group which included families from Peru, Paraguay, Ontario, and Texas. 

Every three years, our  local small town celebrates their history. We spent a day touring some local spots and eating free food from local businesses. This lady showed us how to die cloth.

We even watched the parade which was a new experience for all my children. I had to laugh, because only in a small town do people line up to watch rusted farm equipment and shiny fire engines file down a highway.

This was a summer that I was grateful that I lived in Pennsylvania. We had numerous visitors who came to Pennsylvania for family gatherings and took the time to visit us. Our picnic table saw friends from Ontario, Belize, and Peru. It was a special treat to meet ladies I've only known only through the written words we've pounded out in emails. I love that my children got a glimpse of God's work in other lands.

But far-away friends are not more important than our local friends. We've been given so much by living in a supportive community. Cousins stop by to say "hi," cookies and flowers show up on our kitchen table, and friends invite us for cook-outs. When I look at the calendar I'm reminded of lunch at a friend's house talking about widowhood while our children played, the fabulous day spent with my writers' group, and the hours spent at a coffee shop talking about books with a friend. The deluge of love has been amazing.

But we also needed to stay home and work occasionally. Lots of rain meant abundant weeds and tall grass. I sewed dresses for my girls and continued to de-clutter the house. My goal was to take one box to the thrift store every week. I haven't done it quite weekly, but some weeks I got rid of four or five boxes so I think my goal was met.

My sister helped me to do some painting and switching bedrooms around.

When our fourth daughter was born three years ago, Ed suggested that we give the master bedroom  and bath to the girls. The girls' bedroom was very small, but I didn't want to give up our room. When Ed got sick, I shelved the idea since I didn't know what we would need for wheelchair and hospital bed. But when I mentioned the idea this summer, my girls were excited. 

They love their new room. 

And I'm surprised at how much I enjoy my new space. The furniture and photos still hold memories of Ed, yet the smaller room feels restful. 

Best of all, having their own bedroom and bath has greatly reduced the getting-ready-for-bed chaos. I'm not sure why, but separating the boys and girls into their own bathrooms has radically dropped the stress level. 

I haven't done as much gardening this year - mostly just eating fresh veggies. Some parts of our county are experiencing drought, but we've had just the right amount of rainfall to make our garden lush and green.

We've enjoyed lots of fresh sweet corn.

I've done almost no canning this year, but we did do a bushel of peaches. I had not canned peaches in several years so my children needed a refresher course.

My girls are delighting in a new batch of kittens.

These two make sure our red raspberries are picked daily - though few berries make it to the house.

 My ten-year-old planted some cut flowers in the garden and has given away many bouquets.

In the hottest days the children beg to go to a nearby creek. While they splash, I sat on a rock with my feet in the water and a book in my hand. Refreshment for everyone.

We started school in July when the heat drove us into the air conditioning. I'm eager to make up for the chaos of the last school year, but so far we haven't yet found a school routine either. I do think I'll enjoy the kindergarten enthusiasm though I can't believe she is five already.

One challenge for school (and life) has been my voice. For weeks I have had very little voice. I managed to keep talking though I sounded croaky, but reading aloud and singing was impossible. I'm blaming allergies though I've never had this problem before. Every week I see a small improvement. One morning last week I found myself singing, something I haven't been able to do all summer. I still don't have a very wide range of notes, but it feels good to at least join in congregational singing at church again on a few verses.

Last weekend found me at a ladies retreat. As always, it was a time of refreshment, an oasis, a restful lull in the middle of August. The workshops, the food, the decor - it was all nearly perfect. 

But the best was the conversations with both new and old friends. I love that this is a safe place to laugh and cry and share my fears. I met many Home Joys readers, chatted with new widow friends, and cherished long conversations with my sister who is headed for Asia soon.

I'm often asked, "How are you?" I don't know how to answer that question. I think I'm okay. In some ways I feel more fragile than three months ago, and I try not to worry about what it will be like six months, or a year, or two years. 

But today, this moment, I'll being held by God and He is helping us find joy in our summer days.

And that is enough for today.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

We Rest On Thee

When I chose "rest" as my word of the year back in January I didn't know how much I would need rest.

Our summer has been recklessly busy. I love summer activities and our whole family is relishing the freedom of busy days and late nights. For the past two years our schedule was focused on caring for Ed. I didn't realize how much I tried to protect Ed from stress until I no longer had to. We miss Ed, but none of us miss cancer and the blight it put on our family.

But even though we are busy, I find that rest is possible. I can ache from pulling weeds, stay up late reading, scramble to get ready for an appointment, and still know rest.

It doesn't happen by default. I can't change much about my circumstances or my children or the current events. But I can choose my intake.  I can be intentional to listen to music that refreshes, read books that inspire, and spend time with people who encourage.

Rest isn't just a physical state of sleep or relaxation. One dictionary definition is "a peace of mind and spirit." I consider this kind of rest to be a gift from God and an answer to those of you who pray for us.

And it isn't just those of us who find ourselves in widowhood who need rest. I found an old post from a few years ago where I wrote about this same subject. Apparently I've been on a journey of learning to trust God and rest in Him for a long time.

On Sunday we sang a new-to-me hymn. I love the message of this hymn and all the names and attributes of God that it describes. To me this shows that finding rest is not something we can do ourselves but only found in God.

I learned that this hymn was sung by Jim Elliot and his four friends before they reached out to a violent tribe in Ecuador in 1956. When Elisabeth Elliot wrote the story of their deaths, she chose the title from a line in this hymn, Through Gates of Splendor.

We Rest On Thee
by Edith A. G. Cherry
Hymns of the Church #501

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender;
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender.
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.

Yea, in Thy Name, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear Name, all other names above;
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each Thy grace to know;
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing;
We rest on Three, and in thy Name we go.

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender:
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise
When passing thru the gates of pearly splendor;
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

If reading this by email, click over to the blog to enjoy a video of this hymn.


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