Here’s To 30!

Today would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. Do you even acknowledge it as a widow? Is that a thing? I have no idea what the protocol is. Then again, we know I’ve never been one to follow protocol 😂

I look back on the graciousness of the Lord & I  am overwhelmed. Our marriage was worth celebrating not because it was any different, spectacular or lovelier than any other marriage. Quite the contrary. It is worth remembering because for all of its flaws? We stayed in it. We honored our vows.  In return? God faithfully honored us. We showed our children that  (1)really hard things are just that—hard(2)things of value are worth investing in (3)Love, in most seasons of marriage, means serving not receiving  (4)most days that meant: you before me~but it took years to figure that out

Our 25th wedding anniversary you surprised me with a vow renewal service with bridesmaids, sit down dinner, wedding cake &  a “just married” banner across the back of your SUV as we left for a week-long “honeymoon”.  We recommitted our marriage to God before our girls & friends. God’s timing is impeccable, isn’t it?  We were able to squeeze in almost 3 more years of marriage.   And then… an ALS diagnosis. Those short years prepared us for our last year together. I am so grateful to the Lord for his focus, re-direction & reminder of what was & was not important. 

In this social media, Instagram, instant gratification world we defied the odds. We won it all even though it looks like we lost everything. 

Happy 30th anniversary, Robin Wooten! I sure wish you were here to celebrate. We always said we’d blow it out big on our 30th.  5 Star to Alaska or Australia.  Honestly ? Your locale is, without a doubt, way better than mine—5 star for sure! What an amazing ride we had! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  However, I sure do miss you, RW!

❤️ 😘

“Trust that if He changes your plans, it is a chance to walk by faith”

2 Corinthians 5:7

Friday Night Coincidence

When I left Eastern North Carolina, after living there my entire adult life, I was standing on God’s promise “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord”-Isaiah 66:9. Honestly, I was both skeptical and excited. The past year I’ve been living in the land of the dry and thirsty (Hosea 13:5); and although He was faithful to take care of me, I still felt very alone in the wilderness.

“Jesus Come” has been my headspace. No memory verse. Nothing fancy. Pretty simple. I’ve always been a terrible student when it comes to scripture memorization. I have a wonderful friend who sends me scripture every morning. Y’all, read that again, a text every single morning since the day of Robin’s diagnosis! I have each scripture she has sent me filed, in order, by book of the Bible. I’m also categorizing scripture by the occasion to help people in need like my friend did for me. The point being, I could be wrong, but I think the Lord looks at our effort, our heart, and our ministry to others. How do we serve (don’t get that confused with works)? Where is our walk heading? Do we trust Him solely or is it just conversation for the company we keep? I decided because I had lost so much, that my new life, was all His. I have no idea what that’s going to look like. I don’t even know what that means. I just know my whole life is surrendered to Him.

We’ve all had that experience that seemed almost unworldly. When you left an encounter dumbfounded or with goosebumps (Holy Spirit bumps), saying to no one in particular or your significant other, “ You are never going to believe what just happened! That was so strange!” Both Google and Merriam-Webster define coincidence this way: “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”

On Friday night I heard running and jumping above my unit, which is very strange because I am on the top floor. So I went next door to the private library and it was quiet. So I investigated further by going outside onto the sky view terrace to see if anyone was up on the observation deck. Let me preface by saying for the month that I have lived in this beautiful building I keep running into this lovely blonde haired woman with two adorable dogs. We live on the same floor, she is always impeccably dressed, and we park in the same area. We always say “Hey” but we’ve never been introduced. So when I walked out onto the terrace? There she was! She also had heard the noise and came outside. It was a gorgeous night and the sun was setting and there is a spectacular view of the golf course so we both stood there and talked. For over two hours. Turns out we both went to the same women’s college in Raleigh for two years and then on to different NC universities. We both buried our parents right before suffering devastating losses with our husbands. We both have daughters. We both are without extended family. We both are devout Christians. We are the same age. She has a chronic illness. She was a stay at home mother. She sold her home on her own, moved here, and is trying to listen to God for her next step. Like me, she is saying “Ok Lord you are all I’ve got —send me where you need me”.

Coincidence? Absolutely not! I am not a theologian nor do I claim to be. I’m just a woman who has believed in God her whole life but didn’t say “I’m all in, Jesus” until my early 30’s. And even then, I was still trying to chase the things of this world, just as every single young family does. It was not until I was 40 that I said, “Ok, Lord, really, like I am exhausted! I want all of you because I know there is something more”. Does that make me an expert? Nope, sure doesn’t. In fact, from the outside looking in, to a non-Christian, my life is riddled with a lot of devastating events. I’m sure anyone on the fence would be saying, “why in the world would I want to believe in a God who allows such horrible things to happen?” My answer to you would be that we live in a fallen world that is overwrought with sin. God allows us to choose. If he chooses for us it would be a dictatorship but he is a loving God. Many times the things we choose are not right for us. Many times the things we allow to stay in our lives will not benefit our growth further down the road. We may not have the vision at the moment but He does. I don’t mean deaths or disease but I do mean the weeding and pruning of relationships. It can be painful and hard. But inevitably if you look back I can almost assure you that you can see why those relationships had no future.

Will my new sky view deck friend become my new best friend? I have no idea. Was it a coincidence? No way. That was God’s affirmation to me that He is with me. He is with you. He is answering her prayers and my prayers with like-minded friends here on earth. We are not alone.

Oh, and all that loud ruckus we both heard that brought us each outside? We asked around and no one else had heard a thing.

Coincidence?

“I will walk by faith even when I can not see”-2 Corinthians 5:7

He Is All We Need

My weekend in the mountains of Asheville was the first vacation I have ever taken by myself. I’ll admit I was squeamish.  I have wrestled with fear over the past two years. Anxiety is actually just fear, which if you break it down, is simply the enemy. As July approached I realized my anxiety had reached almost unbearable limits. July is a huge month. The Fourth of July, second to Christmas, was our favorite family holiday and this year I would be alone. July also marks the two year anniversary of my husbands death. It also would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. Emotionally the enemy was having a heyday with me.  I decided “no more”. 

This I did know: I had allowed other people’s actions to dictate my response to life which had resulted in anxiety i.e. fear. I had not allowed who God says I am to define me any longer. So I made a reservation in Asheville at the last place Robin and I stayed, as husband & wife, while he was still able to walk.  I needed to spend the anniversary of his departure to heaven gaining earthly closure. I needed to hear God’s voice.  I needed to declare the Blood of Jesus over the enemy!   Also, 1-40/Old Fort Road takes my breath away…as in terrifies me.  I needed to tackle that mountain ⛰ literally and  figuratively!

What made the last year of Robin’s life so beautiful was the fact that we intentionally submitted fully to God. We found wonder in the immediate. We forgave. We let go of the past. We welcomed in. We loved unconditionally. We offered grace upon grace. I allowed Robin to lead as a biblical husband, something I had never done before, because I wasn’t willing to give up my  voice, pride or control. He was my earthly bridegroom. He spoke words of affirmation. He was my center that year even in the midst of dying. When he died I lost my center. My love for the Lord had not changed; however, I was worn down and the enemy waged war.

Off to Asheville I went to find God’s voice again. I shot skeet. I sat in a field &  watched geese. I talked to horses. I spent an evening watching lightening bugs light up a meadow. I sat on a bench at the inn observing families and couples come and go. I watched the clouds roll over the mountains and roll back out. I listened to babies cry. I watched couples fully engaged and  couples completely miserable. I listened to live music. I watched a fierce lightening show which cancelled my horse back riding expedition. I went to bed early and woke up without an alarm clock.

It occurred to me that all of these things are God’s courtship with us. He is always there. Of course, I know that. When was the last time I really looked at lightening bugs with wonder, as if the Lord was saying “Elizabeth, I’m lighting up this dark season to show you new light”? I hadn’t. I listened to those babies cry, not out of annoyance, but out of thanksgiving. So thankful that God gave me two beautiful daughters. I shot skeet.  Robin & I just loved it! Our family of four loved shooting. I’m so thankful to God for those memories & that season.  I spent time at the horse stables. It brought back memories of my husband & I pulling a horse trailer all over the south for our youngest daughter to show.  It was as if God and I were on a first date telling each other about ourselves. I would give him a memory and He would show me something magnificent that He had created. It was a lovely 48 hours where I just let go of burdens. Pain became memories of love. 

What did I learn? I learned that Jesus is my Bridegroom. He is my center. My words of affirmation. He desperately loves me.  He desperately loves you. He lights up our skies to get our attention but we are too busy on our phones. When we are in a dark place he sends us lightening bugs to magnify his love and light our way. He exalts His love in the sunrise and the sunsets but we simply do not see Him. He sends us rain storms to wash away our pain. He gives us magnificent lightening shows to demonstrate his fierce blessing on us. He is literally all we need.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation so why should I be afraid?”-Psalm 27:1

Be Still

People tend to believe their own lies if they tell them long enough.  Their “truth” becomes the truth. Gather enough people to believe it? Gospel truth.

Discernment tells us:  Be Still.   

Discernment begs us to ask:  why is everyone getting excited?

Be still

The enemy  disguises everything in embellishments
(2 Corinthians 11:14) and half truths.

Be Still

Discernment tells us: hurricanes and tornadoes are loud, scary, and dangerous.  And, yet, people are enthralled with chasing them, and being right slam in the middle of them. When the storms destroy their property? The storm chasers are the first to testify  how terrifying the storms really were. Ironically, or not so, they were the people who followed the crazy.

Be Still

Discernment tells us that the woods are  hauntingly lonely but beautiful. Yet before His crucification  Jesus went amongst the trees to escape the chaos, to grieve, to pray.

Be Still

Discernment tells us the slick calm stillness of water in the morning is melancholy. Yet that stillness  is where Jesus br life and power to  walk above fear.

Be Still

It is easy to listen to the voice telling the loudest authoritative story with the most repetition  based on their truth.  Quite frankly,  the only  unchanging truth we have in this life, is God’s word and His authority.

Be Still

Discernment is the Holy Spirit telling us to measure all truth against God’s truth, His Word.

Be Still

” Be still and know that I am God”-Psalm 46:10

“See, Life Is Still Beautiful!”

Lately I can not escape the magnificence of the sunrises and sunsets. I wake up to gorgeous red and pink rays streaming through my plantation shutters. Invariably, wherever I am, at the end of the day, the sky is on fire.  I am inclined to think the Lord is telling me, “Elizabeth, look up! See, life is still beautiful!”

My husband and I captured hundreds of sunrises and sunsets on our iPhones throughout the years. It didn’t matter what state of affairs our day was in or what season of marriage we were in: mad at each other, agitated with one another, elated with one another: if the sky looked right, we hopped in a vehicle and made the way to the best viewing spot. We were diligent at chasing the spectacular sunsets the last year of his life.

This past weekend the whole sunrise, sunset thing overwhelmed me. Almost 19 months into widowhood my grief comes in waves now. It is no longer the daily put one foot in front of the other, praise God! But in some ways, this is worse. I don’t know when it will debut. On Saturday morning my daughter’s boyfriend put a picture on Instagram of one of our favorite places at the beach, at sunrise, and I was absolutely overwhelmed with grief. It was as if I was back to the first week of his death. Uncontrollable sobs that I had not had in months. This is the part of grief that I truly don’t like, and can’t figure out. And, yet, there God was with this spectacular sunrise right out my own front door, “ Elizabeth, I am making all things new!”

I called a friend of mine who lives over an hour away and she said come for dinner. I stopped at Lidl to pick up some tulips to bring as a hostess gift. As I was waiting at the light, the sky lit up the most beautiful orange. It was more than annoying. It also made me cry. Which annoys me more. “Elizabeth, I am near” (Psalm 145:18). There are few times in my life when I have heard the Lord. It is not an audible voice, people. But I heard Him in the spirit. Meanwhile, two annoyed patrons honked behind me not knowing I was communing with our Lord.

I arrived at Lisa’s beautiful cottage and it was like coming home. Lisa, is only one of two widow friends I have. We are the same age. Our husbands died fairly young. Our husbands illnesses were terminal and quick. We both have two daughters. We both have autoimmune diseases. We both have somewhat neurotic dogs. We both have extremely complicated family dynamics. We both married quintessential eastern North Carolina men, who we are  sure either knew one another or had many mutual friends. We both loved being married. We both are writers. We both wake up every morning going “How in the hell did we get here?”  We have considered a  live video or a podcast about our lives: we are fun, we can be hilarious, I  am getting hit on by 70-year-olds on at least a tri-weekly basis. We have a lot of material! Alas, did you just read the above paragraph?  We decided, on second thought, how the heck could we be a beacon of hope for anyone? Bahaha!

As I drove home last night I felt settled and that felt good. My oldest called me from “the normal bar” I didn’t ask, she’s a grown woman. And then Lisa called to make sure I got home. It’s not my husband. It’s not my parents or in laws or any other deceased people in my life but its people God put in my path. He is near. Look at the sunset this week. I promise it will bring you joy.

Would I Recognize Her?

When I look at this picture, taken Valentine’s Day weekend two years ago, I wonder if I passed the woman in the picture today, on the street, would I recognize her? My hair is now lighter, my physique is slightly lighter, I’m more wrinkled than I was two  years ago. Everything in my life, absolutely everything, in two years time has changed. I  can not honestly think of anything that has remained the same.  

King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a season for everything & a time for every delight & event or purpose under heaven”.  He proceeds to list all of the musings, we as God’s children, can expect to walk and experience in life. During the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln referenced Ecclesiastes during a speech to Congress. Thomas Wolfe once wrote in regards to Ecclesiastes, “Of all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth.”

Where am I going with this rabbit 🐰 trail? If Kings, Presidents, and novelists acknowledge God’s Word to be truth, shouldn’t we?  

Everything we need to  get us through life is in God’s word. There are truly no surprises. 

The first year  I just prayed to survive. I just wanted to not feel sad anymore.  I wasn’t prepared for the cavernous hole in the hollows of my soul, that echoing pit.

I made the choice to be intentional. Even if I didn’t get dressed that particular day, I would thank the Lord for something. I believed God’s word to be true, and that He would never leave or forsake me.

Nineteen months later as I’ve started to heal inside the focus has shifted externally:  

“Make your tent bigger. Open your doors wide. Don’t think small! Make your tent large & strong, because you will grow in many directions.”-Isaiah 54:2-3 

Isaiah 54:2-3  has become my ❤️heartbeat verse. It has given me the vision to see outside of my own pain and a purpose for the future. The Lord will use any tragedy, I am convinced, for good and His glory. My tent, I hope, will grow large enough to shelter other widows as they walk through the steps of grief, rebuilding, repurposing their lives and  figuring out what God has called them to do and be. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have experience to know what not to do and what to do. I know that the Lord  has graciously lavished upon me his goodness. I know that relearning life after being a caregiver of someone with ALS or any terminal illness is life changing.

If that same man in the wheelchair, leaning towards me, holding my hand, a lifetime ago, came wheeling towards me today would he recognize me? Would he roll up under my tent & help minister the message of hope? I don’t know. I would hope so. I would hope that he would be proud that this experience did not crush me. It has strengthened me, no inspired me, to go forward to help other women in any capacity that I can. There is no hope in ALS or terminal illness. But there is hope in Jesus Christ and in His Kingdom to come.

Now There’s An Anomaly!

When I first started writing for Hope for Widows I chuckled to myself, “Now there’s an anomaly!” A handful of faceless women, of all demographics, trying to convince other women; yes, women widows on the internet that there is hope after tragedy.

Something inside me screamed “I’m in!” I mean, how hard could it be to share the story of loss, grief, resurrection, and new birth of life, so to speak, after the death of a spouse.Turns out that the joke has been on me, it is very difficult. However, trying to express my thoughts and put them into actual words that make (somewhat) sense has been cathartic and pivotal to my grief and healing process.

I have discovered that I am actually a widow anomaly.

(1) I’m relatively young as the general widow stereotype goes.
(2) My husband died of a horribly rare disease called Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. People don’t even know how to respond to that. Guess what? It’s okay. It wasn’t a secret, we all knew he had it!
(3) I have one divorced friend. All of my friends are married. Although they were there for me at the drop of a hat physically the first year, life has gone on. They are involved in their own weekend lives. Phone calls or texts are still daily. We plan lunch or dinner dates. This has been a change going into the second year for me, socially. It was not until my husband died that I realized that my part of the world is couple driven. Being single is almost uncomfortable if you aren’t settled into who you are.

Anomaly.

There is hope in being a widow. You must get past the initial shell shocked pain. I don’t know when the grief leaves or if ever, but when the dazed and confused lifts you breathe. And then you access. Then you start to slowly rebuild. And there is hope in that process. Sure I miss having someone open doors for me, holding my hand, driving me places, spooning in the bed, intimacy, conversations, laughter, shooting skeet at the farm, the boat, vacations, texts to make sure I’m okay, flowers on Friday’s. I miss my husband of almost 28 years. I miss my most intimate friend of 33 years. I think that’s normal widow grief.

 

Here is what I find I do like, not because I want to replace my husband, but because the reality is he’s gone so I must live. I want to focus on what the positives are because I figure I’ve had enough negative for a lifetime, Amen? So here we go:

*I love  I don’t have a time schedule. If I want to stay out until 3am, (I don’t) I can.

 


*I love knowing every square inch of my new home is me. I hung every painting and placed every item. I organized the garage, closets, kitchen all of it. On my own. There was a rite of passage into the abyss of the new world and I like that.

 
*I like that I can purchase something and it’s my decision and not a family decision.

 
*I like  that I can go forward in life not making the same mistakes twice.

 
*I like  that I am in control of my finances. I let go everyone my husband used and picked my people. Not because they were bad but because I needed advisors with whom I could communicate and who understood me. And I’ll probably shake it up some more in 2020.

 
*I like that I have learned I will not spend my time with things or people unless they bring me joy. The old me accommodated and pleased the world thus leaving me miserable (and my family). Not new me. New me wants only relationships that flourish or are purposeful.

 

*I like that I can watch HGTV all day long if I choose too
*I like that my toilet seat is always in the proper down position.

 

Anomaly.

It is not that I wouldn’t want my handsome, charismatic, southern husband back should he walk through that door tonight–I would! More than anything. The reality is that  he is not going to walk through that door. So I choose hope, in what others may deem,  a hopeless life. There is both joy and hope in every  tragedy. We just have to give ourselves permission to find it.

Anomaly.