Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Planner in Me Meets Full Surrender

I am a planner. 

I like lists and processes and am very keen on organization.

I think through things from many different angles, playing devil’s advocate with my own thoughts to determine their solidity.

Some view this as a weakness in me.  Some view it as strength.  I can drive people crazy with my lack of care-free-ness while at the same time comforting others with my preparedness.  It just depends on who I am dealing with at the time.  

My craving for a controlled environment can be my largest attribute and my biggest stumbling block.  It depends how I use it.

God is a planner.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has planted eternity in the human heart” {NLT}

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” {ESV}

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands.” {ESV}

Ephesians 1:11-12 “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” {ESV}

It warms this planner girl’s heart to know that her Creator is the greatest Planner of all! 

But if I am completely honest, the reality is that it also frustrates this planner girl’s heart when my plans and His plans don’t line up together.

And that, my friends, is where my mind has settled this morning.

I think the holidays have brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.  Tim and I had many plans for our lives; many plans.  One of our biggest dreams for our family was BIG holiday celebrations with our kids, their spouses and their children.  We knew how we wanted holidays to be.

My Thanksgiving tree as our dinner centerpiece, with blessing tags for each family member to fill out and then us reading those blessings off one by one after our feast.  Then Christmas Eve candlelight church service as we filled an entire row with just our loved ones.  Back home in our pajamas, Tim reading the Christmas story from the Bible as we gathered by the fire.  It would be our turn, as the jovial grandparents, to spoil each family member rotten with the Reynolds’ family tradition of Christmas Bingo.  The games, the gingerbread house decorating contests, the music and the gifts; joy would radiate from every corner of our home.

When Tim died this past January, he was only 45 years young.  He left me with a 13 year old daughter and a 14 year old son.  I was 42.  I have cried out many times over these past ten months“but what about OUR plans???”

With tear stained cheeks and body-shuddering sobs I have told God that I don’t understand.

I have expressed my discontent with where life has come and frustration with how I can’t see where it is going.

I have wrestled with the reality that life isn't fair.

And I have slowly surrendered my plans.

It hasn't been easy.  In fact, this surrender has been one of the most painful processes of my life.  It snuggles up in line behind the loss of Tim and the loss of our baby through miscarriage years ago.  Painful isn't even a strong enough word to describe it.  Remember, I like order and I like plans.  

When Tim died, I felt stripped bare, as though he took all of our plans with him.

Proverbs 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” {NIV}  

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” {ESV}

I have truly found contentment in where God has me.  

This contentment doesn't eliminate my selfish wish for Tim to still be by my side, living out our plans and dreams together.  What I have found though, is that if given the power to bring Tim back…I surprisingly wouldn't.  My love for him is too great to desire ripping him away from the perfection of love and true life he is experiencing with our Savior.  My heart soars with happiness for Tim.  His total healing brings me peace.

I just miss him.

I miss our dreams and plan-making.

I feel a bit lost trying to sort out “our” dreams for the future of our family.  In the process, I find that while things will be altered from our original plans, as long as I remain focused on God as the head of this family, we can find joy in our present and in our future.

We can still have a beautiful life.

God willing, we can still have an altered version of the BIG holidays in our future.

We will be acutely aware of who is missing, but we will also be acutely aware of Who is present.

God has a plan.  His ways are better. 

Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is flawless.  He is a shield for all who take refuge in him." {NIV}

Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” {NIV}

I trust Him.  

He is the Great Plan Maker and (shockingly) He doesn't need my help.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Choosing to Remain Single (as seen on A Widow's Might)

“You are young, you will remarry.”
“You still have a lot of life left ahead of you, you will remarry.”
“You and the kids are awesome, you will remarry.”  

Honestly, hearing these comments makes me cringe.
I was married for 19 years; I know firsthand that marriage is a wonderful thing.
I was loved well.  We made a great team.
At 43, I am (God willing) merely half way through my life expectancy.  And yes, we have a pretty awesome family; we love to laugh and we have fun.
Guess what?
I am content.
I am not interested in marrying again. 
Each time I say this, I get the {smile and nod} and a comment similar to “Well, it’s early; you are still heavy in grief.”
I am going to make a bold statement here so listen carefully.
There is a difference in being content with where God has you and just getting stuck here; settling into a “victim mode” of “nothing will ever be as good as it was”. 
I am not clinging to a false remembrance of marital perfection.  Marriage is hard work.  It is a daily sacrifice of choosing to place the marital relationship as the most important earthly bond.  Life wants to get in the way and we have to be intentional in our loving of each other to build a strong, godly marriage.  I am not choosing to remain single because I am “glamorizing” my marriage into something it wasn't. 
I am contentedly living the life my Savior has allowed me to live.
I am accepting the “right here” and the “right now” and living fully in it.
Here’s the deal, ladies.  The Bible is clear on this topic.  Our marriage covenant ends upon the death of our spouse.  Widows can remarry.  It’s just that I don’t personally have any desire to share this life with a man other than my late husband.  None.  And whether friends and acquaintances are okay with this decision or not, doesn't really concern me.
What I WANT…is to be so aligned with God’s will for my life that I am able to accept His plans for my future, whether they are what I currently desire or not.
Maybe friends are correct and God will have another beautiful marriage relationship in my future.  Maybe He won’t.  I am truly okay either way, but honestly, in this moment, it is not my heart’s desire. 
So here is what I am feeling led to pray:
Lord, you know my heart.  You placed in it a deep love for my husband and you blessed us with a beautiful marriage.  To be loved by Tim for our 19 years was enough for me.  Thank you for surrounding me with friends in my life who have good intentions and are concerned for my future.  I am trusting that if You have plans for another marriage covenant in my life, You will change my heart, until then, I am content with where You have me.
If I've learned nothing else on this journey, I've learned these two things:
Life doesn't always go as planned, and God is faithful. 
He is faithful and I trust him to take me where I need to go, when I need to be there.
So when others feel the need to “encourage me” with the statement that I will marry again, I have a choice.  I can dig my heels in and argue, or I can let their words softly open a new place within me.
My initial response of defensive thoughts are slowly transforming into a perspective that has much less to do with remarrying and much more to do with the condition of my heart.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”  ~Psalm 32:8

Are you a widow or do you know of one?  Encouragement can be found from our team of 17 writers and speakers over on the A Widow's Might website.  You can search the site by author or topic.  

My First Widow's Conference

Let’s start this story where it really began…

I had the opportunity (if that’s what we want to call it) of knowing that widowhood was approaching.

It was during my journey into widowhood that I found the ministry A Widow’s Might.

Their writing team was speaking to my aching heart before I even crossed the threshold into this sorority that none of us willingly pledged.  Their devotionals encouraged my soul and continually pointed me to Jesus.  They were a balm to my open-wounded emotions.

Here, were a team of writers and speakers that have walked the walk and know…to the depths of their beings...the pain associated with losing their husbands.  It was like a magnet pulling me towards them, I eagerly awaited each new post.

I first read about A Widow’s Might November Conference back in the spring.  A conference for widow’s?  WOW!  What would that be like?

They had invited me to submit a guest blog.  I had spent hours visiting with the leader of the ministry on the phone, discussing my writing, our faith, her vision of where God was taking them.  I started the registration process to attend the conference but in the end decided I couldn't afford it.  Travel to Myrtle Beach is expensive.  I've always been one to stick to a strict budget and I simply couldn't justify taking funds from the family vacation account to use on me individually.
Time continued to pass, I continued to journal.  Kit and I visited more.  Slowly, we both felt God’s calling for me to become a full time team member.  That in and of itself blows my mind, THIS ministry that had held my hand as I traveled the treacherous path to becoming a widow now wanted little ole me to join them.  All glory to God alone!  [You can order our newest daily devotional For the Love of Her Life Winter Edition here.]
The kids and I discussed my desire to attend the conference and we watched God remove the financial obstacles one by one.  Even to the point that a medical provider donated his services to our family which freed up funds I had saved to use for those procedures.  Funds that could now be used for an airline ticket instead.  My sister even took off work and came to stay in our home to parent the kids in my absence.  God is a God of details!

Thankfully, God has blessed me with a local ministry team member (the 17 of us are scattered all over the US and I have one 20 minutes from me!).  We flew out together.  It was comforting for me to have a friend to travel with.  I arrived in Charlotte (another one of God’s financial provisions) and met two other team members face-to-face for the first time.  Together we drove down (or over, or up, my directional challenged brain doesn't even know!)

The team was amazing.

As a "late comer" to the team, I had "behind the scenes" responsibilities for this conference.  Also, as a new team member, I needed to video my ministry testimony to be used on our website.

Never mind that the ocean was too noisy and the hotel curtains ended up being my backdrop. (But really, you that know me well know how much this bothers me…haha-I love decorating and all of those little details.  I’m quite certain my outfit clashed with those hideous curtains!  I even wore orange in honor of Tim’s OSU Cowboys and the OKC Thunder.)  Another sweet reminder from our heavenly Father that this isn't about me!

The videographer was so extremely kind and patient with me as I cried...and cried...and cried.  No seriously, I finally cut out half of my planned speech because it was just too painful.  I can’t wait to see what Carmen makes of it!  I trust her.  Believe me, when it is available and I post it, remember that if it is even half way decent, it is all because of her mad editing skills and compassion.  She even leaked a few tears (but maybe that was because she was happy to be done with me…haha).
It was a full week of hard work, little sleep, deep praise and wonderful healing for me.  I watched God move in mighty ways.  Women entered the registration area timid and with hesitation.  Those same women walked out of our final session with smiles, laughter, friends and the love of Christ resting softly upon them.




It was a time of healing and encouragement; tears and joy; frustrations and forgiveness.

Personally, I felt God tug on a few more of the straggly threads along the edges of my tattered heart and gently bind up their ends.  This was my first "alone" time to grieve and heal without the audience of my children.  It was a necessary step in my healing. Grief is a long and arduous process.

Nothing is beyond God’s time table or skill level.  
He is faithful.

As a ministry, we are now deep in the throes of planning the upcoming Dallas conference in February.  I am excited to watch God show off again!  Will you commit to join me in prayer over each woman He wants to draw to attend this conference?  I assure you, our team is diligently preparing for God to be glorified.