The Real Me!

Ever look into the mirror and wonder whom the stranger is staring back at you? Usually this is after a major life event or traumatic experience. Life seems to create in us this quandary as to who we are and what our purpose should become.

I have always been an independent, stable woman with a career I love and a zest for life and living. However, when I look in the mirror I no longer see that woman. Oh I get glimpses of her here and there, but the general essence of who I was is veiled. It isn’t that I am a totally different person; it is that those aspects of who I am, which I found familiar, seem absent. I find this disheartening, or should I?

Just because the person staring back at me in the mirror is unfamiliar, doesn’t mean she is unwelcome. It simply means I need to become comfortable with her again. I need to explore what makes her tick—how she lives, makes decisions—how she loves and how she takes on life. 

We evolve and change constantly. Life events and circumstances influence this change. I am not the same person I was before I was a mother.That experience molded me. I am not the same person I was before I experienced great loss, that event has shaped who I have become. 

As I work through this process of re-acquaintance, I am not sure if I become more content with who I am or if it is that I begin to understand myself better and thus begin to accept and even become fond of this “new me”. I believe it becomes a choice. 

I refuse to lose my sense of self. I refuse to allow this unfamiliarity to create within me insecurities that are cause for rash decisions or a sense of uncertainty. On the contrary, I embrace this new person and realize she is a collection of her experiences both past and present and is being fashioned to move forward into the “chapter two” of her life with a newfound appreciation for the outcome of life’s experiences.

This I know for sure…..mostly!

Snow Day and a Confession!

I may be telling stories out of the “teacher’s lounge”, but it is a little known fact that teachers love snow days as much as, perhaps more than, the students. It is the one time I sit, eyes glued to the bottom of the television screen hoping to see my school name scroll across. When it finally does, I find myself doing one big happy dance (on the inside of course as to not scare the children). I grab the phone; make the call to the next teacher on the phone tree, grinning at the giddy sounds on the other end of the phone. I feel like the florists delivery boy on Valentine’s Day.

I always have great plans for the snow day. I am determined to clean out the study, get my tax information together, launder the sheets on all the beds, work on the storage room and….well, you get the idea. I make lists and have the best intentions. 

Then, I sit at the computer to “quickly” check my email. As I look over at the nearby comfortable couch, I eye the remote control which seems to call to me. I hear it say, “What about all those television shows you have TIVO’d and what about the Lifetime movies you never get to watch? Are you sure you want to be productive today. I have much more fun things planned for us.” So, my determination disappears and I grasp the remote control sternly in my hand, sit myself on the couch and—I am not sure where time goes from there.

The next thing I know it is 3:30—the regular time I get home from work. That is a benchmark time for me. There is certain melancholy when I discover it is already 3:30 and I haven’t accomplished—ANYTHING. Wait one minute; I HAVE completed five Sudoku puzzles, read five magazines and watched hours of meaningless television.

What have I gained? Perhaps nothing except that I have REGAINED my sense of wasting time, an art many “grown ups” have abdicated to their teenagers. I have come to the realization that I am capable of frittering away time and have absolutely nothing worthwhile to show for it. I will admit, I am proud of myself. There are not many adults who can boldly stand and say “I wasted a whole, entire day”. There you have it – my confession. They say it is good for the soul.

This I know for sure….

Joy from Sorrow

I know you might get tired of me bringing up Henri Nouwen, but I simply can’t believe how much his words resonate to where I am on a daily basis. I receive his Daily Meditations and they are always inspirational or cause me to think or, well, both. If you are interested you can also sign up to receive them: They are taciturn (Rosanne will appreciate that-since she is the queen of verbosity) for those of us with a bit of an attention problem (like my entire family and most of my friends—LOL).

I was in the middle of composing a blog about the close relationship between joy and sorrow. The basic premise was that in order to experience true joy, you would have to also understand sorrow. I remembered that this topic was addressed in an early January Daily Meditation and sure enough—I found it. Nothing I have ever written has come close to explaining my feelings on this topic than the words from Henri Nauwen as follows:

“Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.” –Henri Nouwen-

Now, do I long to feel sorrow so I can also experience joy? NO! of course not, but I do acknowledge the connection. It is said that love is the universal language, but I am not sure that is the case. Unfortunately, there are people who may never experience true, undying love in their lifetime, but everyone will experience sorrow and pain. Perhaps these emotions are more universal then we would like to admit. The other side of this coin is that, the greater your capacity to feel the pain and work through it, the greater your capacity to absolutely experience joy. Though pain is not something I desire to experience, I concede that through sorrow I have the ability to recognize and experience joy more completely for I have endured the opposite.

This I know for sure….

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. 
( 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: ) 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….

What Defines Me?

I am so different than I was even 10 years ago. I am not the reactionary—I don’t jump to conclusions (as much)—I also lack a bit of the passion those traits encompass, but have gained a sense of discernment. Different qualities define who I am now. I have grown and hopefully learned. 

What defines me?

I am first and foremost a mother. 
My children define me—
not by what they do, but when they think for themselves, come into their faith or simply say “I love you mom”. 

I am a daughter.
Family defines me–
not necessarily by birth, but by the heritage I embrace with such pride.

I am a friend. 
My friendships define me—
not because they chose to share life with me, but because the character they exude reflects my uncanny ability to surround myself with exceptional friends. 

I am an educator. 
My students define me—
not by getting good grades, but by thinking outside the box, creating a beautiful piece of writing or simply being better members of our community. 

I am a Christian. 
My faith defines me—
not because of what tenants of my religion dictate, but the day in and day out walk which causes this world to hold the hope I long for

I am a widow.
Loss has defined me–
not because of mourning, but because of the strength gained, the capacity to empathize and the assurance that there is more.

I am a woman.
Life defines me—
not because I live it perfectly, but because I long to live it fearlessly.

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….

Most Favored 2006

Following family tradition ( I find it necessary to create Marsha’s Most Favored Awards2006—not that anyone really cares what I think, but it gives me a place to chronicle a year’s worth of favorites. 

Favorite Movie – Little Miss Sunshine
This may just be the place I am in, but I laughed hysterically at this movie. I might have been the only one in the theatre doing so, but I totally enjoyed this movie. The acting was phenomenal. My favorite quote in the movie…
Richard: Sarcasm is the refuge of losers.
Frank: [Sarcastically] really?
Richard: Sarcasm is losers trying to bring winners down to their level.
Frank: [Sarcastically] Thank you for opening my eyes to what a loser I am!

Books: This was the year of nonfiction reading for me. 

Favorite Literary Work of 2006: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I will have to admit that the number of grief books I have read in the past year would number in the—well, lots. However, this book is written by an award winning author who simply has a love affair with words and though I didn’t always find her experience the same as mine, I found the essence of the writing to be extremely familiar.

Best Book Read in 2006 not published in 2006: Turn My Mourning into Dancing – Finding Hope in Hard Times by Henri Nouwen
Whatever “hard times” your life may bring; Nouwen, in his infinite wisdom and gift of prose, speaks to the very heart of learning to heal and find hope. My favorite quote from this book: “To heal is to let the Holy Spirit call me to dance, to believe again, even amid my pain God will orchestrate and guide my life.” WOW~

Most Surprising Book that I Enjoyed—Even LovedThe Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I am neither a Democrat, nor a liberal-though have been accused of being a closet liberal; however, this book was surprisingly well written and more thought-provoking than I expected. When it was chosen by my bookclub to read, I was less than excited. I couldn’t have been more surprised. Obama sure does have his thumb on the pulse of America and the reforms needed to move us from the place in which we reside to one of hope. If you don’t want to be challenged to think—don’t read this one.

On to the more intellectual aspects of things favored:

Best Television All-Around: Boston Legal 
This show is a spin-off of another all-time favorite of mine, The Practice. Boston Legal is like watching The Practice on steroids. Though he doesn’t know it yet, I am going to marry James Spader (Alan Shore character) I find his intellect and wit to be tremendously attractive. LOL! William Shatner (Denny Crane character) is the epitome of politically incorrect in a tremendously correct way. Best quote from the show:
Denny Crane: Now, Alan, if all else fails and you think you’ve lost… pretend you’ve won! Works for our president.
What a hoot!

Biggest Surprise on Television: Heroes 
Though I have never been a comic fan or even taken with the fantasy genre, this show captivates me. I find the characters engaging and the storylines refreshing original. Besides all of that—it is just plain fun.

This one is tough. If you looked at my ipod playlist you would sign me up as a true music schizophrenic. Music is one of the most vital gifts in my life. I will give it a whirl as to what I have enjoyed this year.

Best Album All-Around: Wherever You Are: Third Day
I know this choice comes from the place I am in my life. The songs on this album have been my constant companion the past year. I am especially connected to the songs The Sun is Shining and Love Heals Your Heart, but the message of hope from pain in the lyrics on this album have been a cornerstone to my personal healing. 

Others that deserve mention:
The Frey: How to Save a Life- Grey’s Anatomy has done wonders for this band.
Chris Daughtry: Daughtry- post-American Idol—awesome! This album takes me back to the rock of my youth. LOL
As for Praise Music, I have to acquiesce that most of it is lame; however, I have enjoyed Lincoln Brewster: Let Praises Ring. I love this album probably because of its strong guitar overtures.  What can I say; I am a sucker for the guitar player. He does Here I am to Worship as a guitar solo that is amazing. Then there is Jeremy Camp: Beyond Measure; All American-Rejects: Move Along; and Nickleback: All the Right Reasons (lead singer, Chad Kroeger can sing to me ANYTIME)That’s about it for the general favorites of 2006. All in all, it was a good year: one of hope, redefining moments and coming to terms with life in general.

This I know for sure…

SCUBA and Life!

Well I did it!! This weekend I completed my SCUBA training and became a certified open water diver. It was a great experience-one I will never forget. I completed the class work over the past few weeks and then spent two intensive days of training in Florida to receive the certification. This is a big “chapter two” thing for me. I have always loved the water and believed I would enjoy the SCUBA experience. I was NOT disappointed.

As I collapsed from exhaustion following the first day of training, I was reminded of the miracle of the wonderful mixture of nitrogen and oxygen in the air we breathe. There were times during my training that I was amazed at the fact that I was truly breathing under the water. This experience reminded me that when difficult times arise in our lives we often are at the point where we feel we can’t breathe. We aren’t sure where the next breath will come from and we are in need of some breathing apparatus to assist us. 

One of the “skills” I had to pass for certification was to take the regulator out of my mouth—let go of it—wait 15 seconds, find it and replace it. Fifteen seconds seemed like a lifetime. The inability to breathe was such a defenseless feeling. The impulse to panic was difficult to fight. When I finally was allowed to grasped that regulator and plunged it into my mouth to begin breathing again, I felt an immeasurable feeling of relief. 

When we face difficult times that leave us with the feeling of breathlessness, there is always a lifeline (regulator) for us to grasp. It may not be evident at first and we may have to feel around for it, but it is there. It could be in the form of a great friendship, a spiritual awakening, a song, or simply becoming aware of our own inner strength. The encouraging aspect of this analogy is that there is no need to remain in a state of despair. The assistance we long for is right there for us to grab on to—but—we have to be willing to do so—to grab for it—hold onto it—and use it to become living, breathing people again.

As for my SCUBA escapades, I am sure there will be more. As for life, I long to not only identify, but rely on the “regulators” in my life. What’s more, I long to be that lifeline for others.

This I know for sure…

My Own Independence Day!

I made an amazing realization today. My faith is truly my own. It is not based on my heritage, nor on the tenants of my “religion”, but is based on the spiritual struggles of my life and what God, himself, has chosen to attest to me. This realization came to me after reading a post on the young widow electronic bulletin board to which I credit much of my ability to heal. There was a post by someone questioning thier faith and the “plan” of God through their grief—so very understandable. It was following reading his post that I realized what I believed had come full circle. I finally wear my faith as a comfortable robe or favorite pair of sweatpants. 

I was fortunate to be raised in a very A-typical “Nazarene” parsonage—where questioning was not only supported, but encouraged—where finding your faith was more that mere words, but an actual process to complete. I am here today to say that though the process is far from complete, it is much more defined. It is not the faith of my father, in fact, though the foundation may look the same the “ins and outs” may look terribly different. I own what I believe—I have possession of it. It is what God himself has revealed to me about MY life and MY circumstances and how I am to live.

There is tremendous freedom in that. My faith is not based on what others do, but on what I do with the values God has revealed to me. My integrity holds true because it is based in what I believe. Then, even though I am not perfect—God’s amazing GRACE covers me. OK—now my “Nazarene” friends get a bit nervous and my “Baptist” brothers and sisters say “AMEN”, but I do believe we totally underestimate the GRACE that God provides. It covers our lives, our decisions and our sacred choices.

This I know for sure….

Stepping Into My Faith

I sat, stoic in the pew on Sunday as our worship pastor challenged us to “step into our faith”. I thought about it long and hard. Stepping into my faith would mean that I would have to totally let go of what I wanted for my life and be willing to accept whatever God had for me. Stepping into my faith would require me to stride up to the cliff—look down—see the 200 foot drop and place one foot in front of the other and continue to walk. Was I up to that challenge? It meant examining my life—completely and in a most agonizing way. Was what I believed enough to carry me through what life had to bring? The answer—a resounding YES—stepping up meant placing my trust, my complete devotion into what God had for me. This may not be what I had in mind, but it is most certainly what God had in mind for me. It may not be the “easy” route (most likely it is far from easy), but it will be the most fulfilling in the end. 

I sat, stoic in the pew on Sunday as our worship pastor challenged us to “step into our faith”. I thought about it long and hard. Stepping into my faith would mean that I would have to totally let go of what I wanted for my life and be willing to accept whatever God had for me. Stepping into my faith would require me to stride up to the cliff—look down—see the 200 foot drop and place one foot in front of the other and continue to walk. Was I up to that challenge? It meant examining my life—completely and in a most agonizing way. Was what I believed enough to carry me through what life had to bring? The answer—a resounding YES—stepping up meant placing my trust, my complete devotion into what God had for me. This may not be what I had in mind, but it is most certainly what God had in mind for me. It may not be the “easy” route (most likely it is far from easy), but it will be the most fulfilling in the end. 

I have to admit that since Sunday I have been trying to figure out what it means for me to “step into my faith”. A friend had an old 4 Him cd on his ipod and shared the song “It is Well with My Soul” with me. Now, this is one of my most favorite hymns. I grew up singing it in church. It was a beautiful arrangement that I had not heard. I remember when my husband lost his job at Illinois Power—I was asked to sing this song in church the following Sunday—talk about stepping into my faith. I had to stand before 400 people and buy into these words. I remember singing the first verse:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul. 

Ok- good thing I didn’t have any idea what that would mean when facing the grief following the death of my husband HOWEVER it was a promise that when I began stepping into my faith it would sustain me through the trials of life, no matter what they were—then came the second verse:

Though Satan should buffet (pound, batter), though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Yikes—stepping into my faith became a bit harder, even though I knew my life was covered completely by what Jesus gave, I still didn’t seem to totally be able to make that “step”. Then came verse three:

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.

Now it becomes easier—to know that the God of the universe has taken the time to care about my simple life—and the decisions I am making—the life I have chosen to live– is overwhelming to say the least. Stepping into my faith means coming full circle and embracing my life story and learning to find God’s grace despite my circumstances. Of course this is something I am totally unable to accomplish on my own. So I continuously reach out for the support of family, friends, my church community and the universe of believers that embrace faith.

This I know for sure….