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.

Perfectly Orchestrated

I recently read a wonderful analogy of how to better understand Gods plan for our lives.

Have you ever watched a marching band perform at halftime during a football game? They create elaborate words or sentences in formation while belting out the school fight song. For the viewers at home watching on TV, the ones who have an aerial view, the acrobatics make perfect sense.  The aerial watchers have a clear picture of what the word formations say. To the fans in the bleachers the band just looks like they are gyrating around while playing instruments.  They often look lost while marching in circles trying not to bump into each other.

Our lives often look similar. Many times nothing makes sense to us here on earth. We are just trying to make the music of our lives. Sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes not so much. We’re just trying not to step on toes. Just trying to get through the routine of life. Sometimes it all makes perfect sense. Many seasons we are just trying to make it all look and sound good. Hold it all together.

From Gods view? He sees it all. The big picture. He understands how the sound is to be played out. He sees and hears each and every note. Each stanza. He knows what the final symphony sounds like.

29 years ago today I said “I do”  having no idea that “In sickness” and “’til death due us part” would actually be part of my life song at such a (somewhat) young age. But God knew. And yet He is Sovereign. He is faithful. He is just. He sees my story. Robins story. Our daughters story. It all makes perfect sense to Him….even when it doesn’t make one bit of sense to me.

One day it will all be perfectly orchestrated. Until then? I am thankful that I was privileged enough to have been known, to have loved and been loved so well.

Happy 29th Anniversary, Robin Wooten. I can’t wait to see you again one day. I love you.

“For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it”~Habakkuk 1:5

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