Brush With Greatness!!

I have been a member and contributor on the Young Widow Bulletin Board since a few months after Don passed away. It has been a lifeline, as well as an opportunity to communicate with and meet other widows and widowers who share the same journey. It is through this venue I have met and developed friendships with some amazing individuals. Recently, a member of the bulletin board contacted me regarding a thread to which I had contributed. One that she found particularly interesting.Seems she is writing an article for a well-known weekly publication on the topic and wanted to interview me for the article. 

Along with the email, she sent a link to her web site to authenticate her interest. 
(https://jacquelynmitchard.com). With a click of my mouse, her web site came up and I immediately recognized her, Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of Deep End of the Ocean, Oprah’s first “Book Club Book”. I was excited and a bit timid (I know, hard to believe) that this famous author would be interested in anything I had to say. Jacquelyn and I began communicating via email a couple times a day for several weeks. We’d share tidbits about family, “the widow experience”, and life in general. We often would send one or two line blurbs, but at other times it would take paragraphs to express our thoughts. I have to say that I felt a connection with her right away. 

Last week I received an email from Jackie stating that she was going to be in Bloomington with her son (he was auditioning for musical theatre at Illinois Wesleyan) and wanted to know if we could get together for lunch. I couldn’t have been more excited to meet someone. Not only to bask in her literary knowledge, but also to meet, in person, this new friend I had made. I anxiously responded that I would love to meet with her whenever she was available.

While sitting in Biaggi’s with a very special friend awaiting Jackie’s entrance, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t even nervous—excited, but not nervous. When she walked into the restaurant her presence was sensed in the room—she had a strong, confident persona. I gave her a hug and she sat down. I introduced her to my friend, and we began to talk right away. It was a comfortable exchange. We spoke freely about our history and life story. She was a widow at a young age, so conversation logically turned in that direction. There we sat, the three of us with this shared experience of loss and an instant bond was created. It still amazes me how collective life experiences create immediate friendships. 

We listened as Jackie shared her life journey from widowhood to remarriage; how she had survived as a single parent and successfully blended and created her current family (seven children—wow!!). She was honest about the difficulties, struggles and ultimate triumphs of creating her “chapter two”. 

We discussed her life as a writer. I was interested in how she researched books, how long it took to write, and in her writing processes. Jackie shared the plot of her next book due out this summer and of the young adult book to be released at the end of this month. She brought copies of her new book, Cage of Stars and a copy of Deep End of the Ocean, to autograph for me. They will be books I will treasure. As we sat enjoying each other’s company, it seemed like we were simply old friends meeting to “catch up”.

Jackie spoke of the cheerleader competition that was being held at the college where her son was auditioning. She told of the girls sitting in the front of the building speaking, as teenagers do—about whatever it is teenagers converse about. As she relayed the girls’ conversation to us, it was as if we were listening to them ourselves. It is this writer’s eye that makes Jacquelyn’s writing resonate. She sees the world through the eyes of a writer. Conversations and life activities surround us on a daily basis. We pay little attention to them, yet to a writer each incident is significant—an opportunity for expression. I made a mental note to share this with my students.

Was this a chance connection with a famous author? I don’t think so. I do believe Jacquelyn Mitchard was one of those brought into my life to dance with me (see blog entry: http://www.breathingsoftheheart.com/2006/08/26/lord-of-the-dance ) and I with her; partners on a journey of shared experiences, yet living diverse lives. I am thankful for those who continually are symbols of hope; those who exemplify that through pain, joy can be found—Jacquelyn Mitchard is one such beacon.

This I know for sure….

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Throughout the course of my life I have sat through more church sermons than most would deem healthy. My father is a minister, both grandfathers were ministers, my uncle is a minister, my brother is a minister and at the same time I lived in a parsonage for 19 years influenced by a multitude of evangelists and missionaries. The fact that I don’t walk around expounding the three-point sermon should be amazing to most. 

Funny thing is, I don’t remember many of the sermons I heard growing up—granted I might have been passing notes to my best friend or the cute boy behind me in the pew during that portion of the service, but it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t remember many sermons. One thing I do remember is eating Sunday dinner at my best friend’s house and sitting through some wonderful discussions following the morning message. My best friend’s father was a man of few words. I don’t remember hearing him talk all that much, but he always had great dialogue about the sermon. I am NOT talking about “pastor stew” where you pick apart a sermon or what the pastor was wearing. I am talking about truly intellectual discussions of Biblical truths and their application, or discourse extending the main points of the message. These were times I loved to simply sit and listen. 

We do have a tendency to hear what we want to hear while sitting in a church pew and often skew scripture to fit our circumstances. To quote my brother, Evan, “I think we have to always be careful not to apply Scripture to our lives, but to apply our lives to Scripture.” I hope that is what I am doing with this post. I wish to clarify the way my life applies to a particular passage of scripture.

I was sitting in my home church this past Sunday listening to another great sermon. My pastor’s text was from the Beatitudes, particularly Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”. The sermon pointed to the fact that most likely this passage was referring to the repentant or those who grieve for other sin’s, but not necessarily for those of us who mourn the loss of a loved one—because what is there to be blessed about? There was even a video of a couple who lost a child to SIDS. The video ended with the couple explaining how they blamed God for their loss. That was it—video over. 

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I don’t agree with my pastor’s interpretation of this scripture because I most certainly do, but with strong conviction I additionally believe this scripture DOES speak volumes to those of us who have lost a loved one. The Beatitudes speak to injustice—loss is unjust plain and simple. It is a scripture of hope for those who grieve.

I am sure it is difficult to look at those of us who have lost a great deal in earthly terms and consider us to be “blessed”. If we are to discount this fact then how is God honored through our suffering? Where is the evidence of His work if we, in fact, continue to play the “blame game” with God and not embrace the fact that we live in a world where death is inevitable and loss is equally unavoidable? How much more then should we embrace the blessedness of our plight and be willing to find our solace within the circumstance? What about Isaiah 61:1-3 especially verse 3 where we are assured “beauty..for ashes..gladness instead of mourning”, or my very favorite Psalm 30:11 “You turned my mourning into dancing”? Instead of allowing these times to break our spirit and steal our faith these times of great loss become one of life’s defining moments. It is one of the only times we can completely know that God is, beyond doubt, all we need. 

I have not come to this realization overnight. It has, and will continue to be, a process. Strength is found in the realization that God is greater than our circumstances—he does transcend our condition to create within us a “blessed” state. So, do I believe “blessed are those who mourn”?You bet I do.

This I know for sure….

Now Choose Life!

On September 29, 2005, my life, as I knew it, changed forever. I haven’t wasted much of my time with wanting to know WHY my 45 year old husband and father of my children was taken from me. I am not sure any answer from God would be sufficient anyway. The why is of little importance at this point. It is the journey from here which will create character and give definition to who I become.

Eleven months ago I lived through the darkest days of my life. When Don was taken from us I wasn’t sure how I would even begin to breathe again let alone begin to heal. Little did I know God was preparing me for an amazing journey of healing and hope. Healing became a deliberate choice.

It has taken this year to realize that Don was never ours to begin with. We were blessed to have borrowed him for those short years. Not that our grief has past, as I suppose it never will completely, but we have the promise that the God who blessed the bright days of our past is longing to be the author of the bright days of our future.

Deut. 30:19-20

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE LIFE so you and your children may live and you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.

“My identity changed in a blink of an eye. I was no longer married; I was no longer someone’s wife and the secure identity I had owned for 24 years, was no longer mine to claim. A new identity defines me. I am now a single parent, I am a widow. I am left with an identity that is awkward. It is uncomfortable yet as I meet the challenges this “chapter two” brings, I know that it is about choice—-choosing life.

It has not been an easy choice to make. There have been many days that I would have rather chosen to lie in bed and bask in my misfortune – it would have been easier. My reality is that at 44 years old I am a single, working mother. It is not the plan I had for my life and though my plans have been forever altered I know God’s plan remains intact. I grab and hold on to the reality that my God is big enough to see me through raising two boys, educating 25 children each year, and paying the mortgage on time.

I can’t change my life history. I can’t change my circumstances, but I can change how the story continues from here. I am choosing the life mentioned in Deuteronomy 30. How do I do this – by seeking the voice of God in my life. I have become so aware of how God speaks to me. I have never been one of the fortunate ones who have audibly heard the voice of God, but I believe He speaks so clearly to me through His Word, through music and through relationships with people in my life.

The choices I make now, how I choose to live directly impacts those around me—especially my children. Though my children are making the same journey, we are on varied paths. I want to lead by example – I want them to know that God really is enough. I want them to know that “stuff” matters little compared to relationships, friendships and love. I want them to know that in the midst of it all—tragedy does not define you—how you choose to live does. I want them to also, CHOOSE LIFE.

This I know for sure…