October 10, 2017

On Dress Rehearsal, Being Rooted, and 19 Months Without My Love

On Dress Rehearsal
A few weeks ago I read a blog post where a woman was talking about her fear each morning when her husband left for work as she would go through all the things that could go wrong that day. As soon as he would leave, her mind would start listing all the tragedies that could strike their family while he was gone. At the end of the post she said that the reality is there is no dress rehearsal for tragedy. There is no way to know what is coming our way, so we can't sit and stew over it.

I totally agree with her sentiment. We are not God. We have not seen all the days ahead of us so we cannot know what is coming. Sitting around and just waiting for tragedy to strike is not the abundant life the Lord desires for us. Scripture tells us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worry of it's own. We cannot add one moment to our lives by worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow. By worrying about what tragedy may or may not come our way today.

But as I've thought of it over the weeks, I have become convinced that there is a dress rehearsal for the hard times, whatever they may be, that come our way. No, we cannot know the exact tragedy or hard moment that will take our breath away, but we can prepare ourselves to remain standing and faithful in those moments. Our dress rehearsal is being rooted in Christ before those hard times ever come our way. When we have done the hard work of being rooted in the good times, then we are stronger and more steady when the storm winds blow. This doesn't mean there won't be moments of doubt. Weeping and sobbing. Screaming and shouting. But when the storm is over, we won't be crushed.

Being Rooted
Why do we need roots? First of all, roots anchor the plant. The deeper and stronger the roots, the less likely the plant is to topple over in the wind and rain. The roots also take in all the nutrients that are vital to the plant's life. Without the roots, there is no food for keeping the plant alive. Third, the roots actually help the plant to ward off disease. Scripture helps makes the connection from roots to our lives pretty clear in Matt. 13:3-8; 19-23. Plants with shallow roots whither away. They cannot survive. We are no different. Without our spiritual roots, we will whither away at the first sign of trouble or pain.

So, how in the world do we root ourselves in Christ? As I have looked back over the last two or so years, I see three areas where the Lord was working in me, teaching me to be rooted, that have held me tight and safe in the storm. I'll admit to not always knowing that's what was happening. There was some of this rooting that, rather than view it as rooting, I viewed it as a desperate attempt to try anything that would work. That would change my circumstance. But the Lord uses even our selfish, desperate attempts at getting what we want to draw us closer to Him.

Be rooted in the Word.
His Word is one of the main ways God reveals who He is to us. So, if we want to know who He is, we have to spend time in His word. It's through His Word that we can see how He desires for us to live and how to keep moving, even in the fiercest of storms. (Psalm 1:1-3) Spend time reading the Word. Even when you don't feel like it. I cannot tell you how many days there has been nothing in me that wanted to pick up my Bible and read anything in it. But I knew I needed to do it anyway. Even just one chapter. For me, even when I don't feel like it, I do my best read at least one Psalm a day. Some days it's more like I force myself to read one Psalm a day. He has never failed to have something in what I read reach out and grab my heart. Speak right to me. Sometimes it's in the chapter I read, sometimes it's in a verse I see as my eyes drift on the page. Trust me, there have been a lot of days in the last 19 months when my mind could barely focus and my eyes were so filled with tears I could hardly see, but reading just a few of His words would remind me that He's real. He's near. He cares. He sees. He comforts.

But don't stop at reading His Word, write His word, too. This has been a beautiful gift to me in the last two years. Before Kevin even passed away I randomly, or so I thought at the time (though now I know it was the Lord graciously leading me) started writing down verses that spoke to me, reached deep down and brought me hope, or contained promises I was begging the Lord for each day while we battled addiction. On days when I couldn't pick up my Bible, I would pick up my journal and read scripture after scripture and be blown away by how perfectly each of those scriptures, written in a totally different season of my life, fit this new season in which I now found myself. It was a balm to my soul. So, buy yourself a notebook and start writing out the Word. It doesn't have to be fancy handwriting or crazy colors. Just write it out. Get some index cards or sticky notes and write down scripture to leave around the house. Paint the Word of God right onto your walls.

And, of course, memorize the Word. This is where I struggle the most, especially since grief brain is a reality. Psalm 119:9-16 tells us the rewards of committing His Word to our memory. When you have the Word memorized then it's there, ready for you to whisper, shout, cry when that storm wave threatens to drown you. When we know the Truth of the Word, then we will know the enemy's lies immediately and be able to remove them from our minds and fill that place with more Truth.

Be Rooted in Prayer
Prayer is our communication with God. Our Creator. The One who loves us unconditionally. The One who always has what is best for us in mind. (Even when His idea of "best for us" might not match our idea of "best for us.") We can be open and honest in prayer. We can tell God our fears and doubts. We can shout our frustrations. We can admit we are bitter and tired. We can honestly tell him what it is our heart wants. We don't have to hold anything back. This is why I love the Psalms. Every emotion we can possibly imagine is expressed in those chapters. They provide a beautiful framework of honest heartbreak, fear, anger, jealousy, not liking or understanding His plan always being followed by speaking the truth of who He is and praising His goodness and provision. The Psalms have provided a beautiful new way for me to pray, as I simply pray His Word back to Him. I'll admit, this was another area where I thought I was doing something on my own out of frustration over lack of answered prayer. I see now that it was His hand gently leading and guiding me as we were fighting addiction so I would be rooted deeply in Him when it felt like our world was turned upside down in an instant.

Be Rooted in Community
This one surprised me! Addiction was a lonely disease, for both Kevin and I. It created so much shame and isolation that I nearly lost all the friendships I had. He pushed away every friendship he had. Now, I cannot imagine my life without the beautiful tribe of family, friends, church family, and even FaceBook family that now surrounds me. I would not have made it through the last 19 months, especially the first 3 or 4 moths, without those who just showed up to keep life going and the kids and i moving, one little step at a time.

Find a solid, Biblical church body and dig in! Join a small group. Get involved in a Sunday School class. Be honest when you need help. Allow them to walk beside you, in the good and the bad. I cannot even begin to list all the ways my church family has loved us and been God's hands and feet in some of our darkest hours. They washed my clothes, brought meals, filled my freezer, and have given my children an amazing start on their college funds. They give the best hugs. They cry with me during worship when the lyrics hit a little too close to home. They help pay bills.

I thought I had deep friendships before March 10, 2016. They were nothing compared to the friendships I have now. Mainly with the same people, but tragedy has a way of drawing us even closer together. The way my family and the ladies of my tribe have pulled in around me to cover me with their shield of faith when I couldn't lift mine is simply beautiful. I can text these ladies at any time of the day or night, regardless of what continent they are on at the time. I don't have to hold anything back. I send my frustration, fear, confusion, joy, hope, all.the.thoughts! They don't judge. They listen and encourage and point me back to the Word. Always. They point out the lies I am mistakenly believing as truth. They speak truth over my when my mind is clouded and I can't recall what I've memorized. I do this for them as best I can (but I definitely get the better end of the deal!) They spent a week at my house when Kevin died. They wrote thank you notes, made sure I ate, watched my kids, washed my dishes, brushed my hair, helped me make my bed, let me sit in silence when I had no words, let me ramble when I just needed to speak about nothing in particular, they've never stopped praying for me. Not one day. I'll admit, I needed these deep relationships from the moment I found out about Kevin's addiction, but I allowed fear and shame and guilt to keep me from digging in back then. So did Kevin. I firmly believe that if he'd been able to push away the lies and the shame and the guilt to dig into deep friendships, he'd still be here today. He'd be clean. He'd be sharing the miraculous way the Lord delivered him from the pit of addiction and depression.

19 Months Without My Love
This world is fallen and broken. It's hard and cold much of the time. Rarely does life turn out the way we expected or hoped it would. I still spend the first 45 minutes or more of each day asking God for the energy to get out of bed and be a parent that day. Many days it still feels like I am just waiting for Kevin to return from a business trip. Some days it feels like he's been gone for years. There are still a lot of days that include tears of sadness or frustration or fear. There are many more days filled with laughter and sweet new memories and wonderful stories of old memories. New pictures are slowly going up on the walls. The days are slowly feeling a little more normal. A little more routine. There are lots of random little things that will pop up every now and then that just take my breath away and stop me in my tracks as the grief takes over and I think I can't go on one more day. Then I start the power washer and clean the house myself and am reminded in just a small way that we're going to make it. As I was typing something earlier today I almost typed that Kevin had been gone 19 years. It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. All I could think was, "There really could be a day that he's been gone 19 years and we're all still here. There are already people that do not know me as anything other than a single mom. Widow. They never knew me as part of a couple with Kevin. Never knew Kevin." Surprisingly, I didn't cry, but it was weird to realize that it's entirely possible the day will come when I've lived more life without Kevin than with him. I always thought it would be the opposite.

As I still sit and wonder what my role is in this fight against addiction, on the 19 month anniversary of his passing, I got a call from a reporter from the Quincy Herald-Whig asking me to do an interview on a story they are doing about the effects of heroin in this area. Though I agreed, I have no idea what I will say. Again, I feel they want to paint a picture so different than the one I have fought hard, day in and day out, to live. I am praying to find the balance between sharing the pain and sadness and reality of his absence in our lives with the hope and healing of the truth that he's set free and the Lord is providing all we need and sustaining us every day. Join me in praying?

Father, You are good. You are hope. You are protection. You are provision. You are in control. You have seen all of my days and prepared me for each one. You hold me together. You are my comfort. You are my joy in the shadows of this life. Enable me to root even deeper in You. Give me a love and hunger for Your Word. Give me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Lord, steal Ethan's heart. Let today be the day of salvation for him. Teach Sophie, Ethan, and I to love you with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Teach us to love others as we love ourselves. Teach us to be Your hands and feet wherever You have us each day. Lord, move. Move in the lives of those trapped in the chains of addiction and depression. Draw them to You. Speak love and truth deep into their souls. Grab their hands and pull them to safety. Clarity. Health. Salvation. Lord, surround them with a community that loves You, points them to You, and will walk the very hard road ahead of them with them every step of the way.