Love people whether or not you understand them.

I didn’t expect strangers to know that I’ve been through the most intense year of my life and am making choices that say, “Life is short. Quit waiting to do things you’ve always wanted to do and enjoy your life,” but I did hope for more.

I have had some really eye-opening experiences in the past few months and I forgive every sweet soul that has rushed to judgment because they didn’t know any better.

Social experiment: dye your hair purple and express yourself with tattoos in a very conservative community. Result: literally, adults gawking in every setting except one which I will address in a minute. One woman took pictures of me at DSW yesterday without as much as an acknowledgment of my eye contact and smile. Standing in line to vote last month: (I have always been the person other people talked to and asked questions–is a pumpkin a vegetable or a fruit? for example) yet, not one question or comment in a 30 minute wait for the first time in many years of standing in line next to other humans.

The exception: people that know and love me, my students, colleagues, neighbors, and my children. I love you all and pray that you will continue to extend grace to others in the measure it has been granted to you.

We do not see things clearly on this earth, which is all the more reason not to evaluate anyone on the basis of their appearance or outward choices that you may not have any basis to understand. We see through a glass darkly, so just love people. Just love people.

What do you leave behind?

When I lost Jeff a year ago, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that he was gone. I have his clothes, his name, his children, but he is gone. We lost another good man today, Mike Friend. As much as I am sure that they are both in heaven together, I also understand that when they are gone, they are gone. No one else knows the things they know or shares the same memories. Because they stood firm for their belief in Jesus, I believe I will see them again.

What am I doing today that will have an eternal impact?  The only legacy we leave behind is how we pour ourselves in to others, how we love them, how we give ourselves to them. Both of these men will forever be in our memories because of what they gave to us here. We love the Friend’s and are eternally tied to them–they are the kind of people you would choose to spend forever with.

When someone leaves us, they take all of their memories, knowledge, and shared experiences with them. You turn to nod or share an expression when something happens,  but they’re not there anymore.

Today was a really hard day. I’m not sure how to process all of this in one week, but here goes: my husband died on Sept. 19, 2015. My precious Sophie died on Sept. 19, 2014. Jeff had a dirt bike accident breaking his leg on Sept. 25, 2011. We spent wonderful time with the Friend family on Sept. 26, 2014 and Mike went to be with Jesus today, Sept. 26, 2016. Within one week, so many huge events. Perhaps it is coincidence, but it also may be God trying to get my attention. “Hello, I’m in control here. Just give your life up to me. I’ve got your back.”  I don’t understand the past seven days, especially when I try to factor in Sept. 19-26 over the past few years. All I know is that it’s bigger than me and I’m so thankful that God will continue to reveal Himself to me and will love me whether or not I have the capacity to understand.

How is it that we stood with the Friend family on Sept. 26, 2014 as Salina proclaimed her firm belief in God’s power to heal her husband, yet we lost him exactly two years later? I can only stand firm on 1 Peter 5:10–God chose not to restore them here, but I’m so sure they are both fully healed and restored today in heaven. Thank you, Jesus.

What does it mean? 

Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!

In the Old Testament there are many examples of God’s amazing providence, love, miraculous power, and protection. Often when a particular event or battle or breakthrough occurred due to the Lord’s action, the people who recognized the source of the power erected a marker stone so they would never forget what God did. I will never forget all of the ways God brought me through each day of the last two years, but I wanted to make sure I had a visible reminder so I would never miss the opportunity to give Him credit.

The four birds represent the day I understood that God would take care of us in every way. After He walked beside me as we lost Jeff, I was met with obligations and decisions that I was not prepared to undertake. In the most minute detail HE provided. I can’t begin to list the hundreds of things I had to figure out, but it is an understatement to say I was not prepared and feared that I could not take care of our family. God was and always will be faithful and continues to show me that His provision is just an outward representation of His love for us. After a year has passed, I am proud to show every person I see just how big God is and how much He loves us: my tattoos make sure I can never forget and will never be intimidated or embarrassed to share my story. Each one beautifully represents a revelation, promise, or hope that God gave to me. People ask me about them everywhere I go. They are my marker stones and they keep me honest. 

It is well…

When you hear the story of Horatio Spafford, it breaks your heart. If you think about how the loss of his children led him to write the song, “It is Well With My Soul,”  it can make you either question or confirm your own faith. I’ve been struggling with what I felt was a call to write this blog. Not sure if fear or rebellion or just uncertainty contributed to my reluctance to respond to God’s push, but here I am. Let me share the words of the song before I get started sharing some things I haven’t known how to share until now:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say 

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well),

With my soul, (with my soul)

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!

Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

A song in the night, oh my soul! 

As I’ve been going through counseling the last few weeks, I’ve expressed a frustration that I haven’t been able to paint or write or create. I am so certain that God wants to share important stuff through me that I have really been careful to put my own thoughts aside and wait for what He wants to share. An empty easel stood in the room I cleared out just to make space to paint and read all summer. I had big hopes of spending time in God’s word and creating something to glorify Him, but I realize that these were my big plans and not His. This summer I spent time with my amazing children and re-purposed our home and yard in ways that meet my needs. Twenty-three years with a person created a life and world that no longer fit me. This year,  I have learned to literally put one foot in front of another with the courage to wake up each morning and face a new day. Yay, me! 

When Spafford writes that it is well with his soul after losing his treasured children, what do you think he means? Today I got it. In total honesty I thought this was something I was supposed to strive for, but I didn’t understand it until today. You know when someone does something to hurt your feelings or overlooks your needs and apologizes? We often say, “It’s okay.” It’s not okay that my husband was taken away from me. It doesn’t mean that I will go on like it never happened. I’m not angry with God. Being able to say to God, “it is well with my soul,” means that I trust Him and His plan so much more than my own understanding. It means that I  submit to His wisdom and believe that He only has the best in store for me.

I lost everything that held our life together and I still believe Jeremiah 29:11–He has plans to prosper and not to harm me. It is well with my soul means that I trust God’s plan more than my own. It means that I’m willing to subject my own preferences, goals, and future to His all-knowing power and supreme love for me and my family. I can’t even began to express how I miss Jeff every day, but I also can’t help but share how much our Lord loves me enough to knit the details of my life together in a way that I can overcome anything with Him. He is making all things new, but is also healing me and leading me into new territory. 

So, it’s not okay that Jeff is gone; but, it is well with my soul that my Lord Jesus is here and ever-present more than I experienced before. God says that he is making all things new. I’m living this every day. Some mornings it is still a struggle to get out of bed and face the world, but I believe that there is a purpose and plan in place and I will open myself up again to be used for His glory. This world I just a rest stop for eternity, but I think we’re supposed to share our lunch with whomever is waiting on the bench next to us. 

It is well with my soul because it’s not up to me. In the same way forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily absolve them from what they did, accepting that God makes decisions that we will not comprehend until we are with Him in heaven announces that we accept who is boss and are willing to accept His plan whether or not we would choose our current circumstance. I surrender to you, Lord and want your will to be done in my life. Crazy that I’ve thought I knew best so many times. Please give me an open heart that loves and is not afraid to lose again. Please bathe my family in your love and draw us closer to you each day. Thank you for my children, family, and friends that surround me and show me how much you love me each day.  I will thank you in all things, even when it’s hard. You are my Savior and I trust you to lead my life. It is well. 

Looking back

This week I read 294 printed pages of Caring Bridge posts (https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jeffstroud) and comments from May 2014 through March 2016 to help me find a starting point for this blog. The outpouring of love, encouragement, and hope from friends and family is still amazing to try and absorb and I’m so thankful to have the chronology of events, photos, and God’s word all in one place because it’s too overwhelming to piece it all together in my own mind.

The first few entries report facts about Jeff’s condition and thank all of the angels God sent to help us, but something interesting happens in later posts. It’s not that God hadn’t done anything amazing before, it’s just that as I grew closer and closer to Him, He gave me words to share and the understanding that I was supposed to use this journey to honor Him. Each day something unexpected, challenging, or inconceivable happened and I turned to God for help. Many days I took the dogs on long walks and cried out, “Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jesus.” over and over; I remained on my feet only because the Lord was holding me up.

Call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.  Psalm 50:15

This blog will be my words, my heart, and the revelation from God that He leads me to share with you. I can’t explain this all in one introductory post, but it’s big stuff (and some little stuff, too). Until the end when Jeff could no longer read or comprehend what I wrote, I asked him to approve each entry before I submitted it. He asked me to change things on two occasions: One time I said “CRAP!  CRAP! CRAP!” and another when I said I wanted to kill him because he was making me crazy. No editor here except the Holy Spirit and I am trusting that His filters will allow the level of honesty and transparency I desire combined with a message that I pray will always point to Jesus.

I will be working on this site and praying about what God wants me to share over the next few days. There’s no specific plan or schedule, but I would love for you to join me on this new adventure.

Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5

 

Beauty for Ashes

I don’t know for sure what I plan to do with this. I’ve felt that I had more to share, but wasn’t sure how to move forward. Today I began grief counseling and one of the facts that emerged was: God is doing amazing things and He might want to continue using me to share them. In obedience to Him and with a need to express how He continues to transform beauty from ashes, I will attempt this. I invite you to go on this journey with me, however flawed and raw it might be.