My husband and I were alone on Thanksgiving. “It’s all good,” I told someone yesterday. “Our children and 10 grandchildren are with their other families. Well, one is still in Ethiopia. We expect to have her here with us soon.”
And I missed my mom and my dad. They are gone now, as are my siblings, taken far too soon.
Today I spent time in Psalm 100 and realized again God how has walked with me through these past 10 years. I felt Jesus’ presence here with me in the quietness of the day. Sometimes I wondered if I’d feel his presence again. There were many moments of being with the loss and the sadness and yes, even doubt that sometimes comes with the loss, yet godly counselors, friends, and loving family helped carry me.
Psalm 100 is all about giving thanks . . . God’s goodness . . . his faithfulness lasting through generations . . . . How I have believed this through my life. And how I have doubted all of it at one time or another in the darkness of the past 10 years.
Knowing God was going to be OK with my doubt, I didn’t try to “fix” it with all the right answers, although I have tried to do that most of my life. He knew I was on a journey. And so I sat with God in the doubt, in the darkness.
And now he has brought me to a place of being able once again to absorb these cherished scriptures.
I had memorized the five verses from Psalm 100 as a child. Being a visual learner, now when I can see, I can remember and even memorize again. So here goes my visual version of Psalm 100:1-5
2) Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3) Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4) Enter into his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5) For the Lord is good, his love endures forever,
and his faithfulness endures to all generations.
God, this is why I am telling my story – to show your faithfulness, even when it has seemed you are far away and maybe will seem that way again.
You may click HERE to read a Memoir posts.
Joining this week with Lisha Epperson, Give Me Grace Community
(Carol and Gordon, April 5, 2005)
On this, the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, my sister-in-law, Carol, has agreed to share an excerpt here from her recently written series of reflections on the first year of being a widow. Yeah, it gets confusing, both of us being Carol and all. (Gordon died of hypothermia after being lost in the Montana mountains.)
The loss of my husband of nearly 25 years left a gaping hole. I was only 52. The unfinished book “The Excellent Wife” (by Martha Peace) sat with a marker frozen in place between its pages. There is no longer an urgency to pick it up again.
Photo albums will no longer be of a family of four, but completed scrapbooks softened the edges of that jagged hole. My then 23 year old daughter asked “Who will walk me down the aisle?”
And I wonder how I will be able to support myself, take care of the yard, live alone. Who do I call about adjusting the automatic thermostat, the broken shower door or with computer or car repair questions? Who will finish the projects he started?
With whom will I reminisce about the trip to Georgia and Alabama when it was just the two of us to remember? Gordon won’t be there to share our dreams for the future or sit with me in church or fall asleep on my couch. I won’t have a reason to fix his favorite potato soup or pecan pie. There are so many layers to losing a husband that only time would reveal, and often unexpectedly. I never thought “til death do us part” would come so young and in this way.
I learned grief is like a shadow, a permanent, attached part of me. It used to cast a long, obvious shadow, but now, even though that shadow is short and sometimes hidden, it is and always will be there. I learned you cannot fully understand grief’s broken heart until you experience it yourself. I learned sorrow and joy can exist side by side, not only in the same day but in the same moment. I learned my anchor in Christ was strong enough to hold me through the storm. I learned I needed salty tears to wash my broken heart.
I learned just as others’ lives continued on around me, I had to make my own also go on. I learned how to redefine “a hope and a future” because my future was no longer linked to my spouse. I am learning to deal with loneliness as I learn to fill the holes left by my husband’s death.
I learned grief is weird, making me feel conspicuous yet invisible, surrounded yet alone, comforted yet afraid. I learned to do the things I think I cannot do. I learned every loss has layers. I learned how to navigate through my own journey of loss and pain.
My belief God is never early and never late was tested to the max and I came through the experience with that belief still intact. Above all, I can say with the Psalmist “I have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
by Carol Jones Longenecker
And now from Carol, the sister.
By the way, who walked that daughter down the aisle when she got married? Her mother and her brother. Carol said we would experience JOY on this day and we did. See it in their faces?
“A Day of Joy” four years later
Four little boys have been added to the family – my brother’s grandsons. He’d be over-the-moon proud of his grown up children, their spouses and those little men.
And to my brother I would say – you would be so proud of that wife of yours. She just put one foot in front of the other and did the things she thought she couldn’t do. I think she surprised herself. She’s quite a woman!
You are welcome to leave messages here for her in the comments below.
(You can also read a letter I wrote to my brother HERE on the 5th anniversary of his death.)
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Second in a series of “No Quick, Easy Answers” for my Memoir. (read about “Remembering” HERE) While the story will be more complete for my family, I share here what I learned about drooping tulips and forgiveness.
* * *
Recently an acquaintance and I were talking about forgiveness. She had received unsettling news. Changes for her she didn’t want and didn’t see coming. There are reasons, she says. She understands (even I understand how it probably happened) and she is forgiving. I believe her. And then I tell her a story:
“It’s a cold dreary day in April and even the tulips at home are drooping this morning. I feel like the tulips.”
I wrote this to a friend and “brother” a couple weeks after a particularly difficult life experience that felt like betrayal. In a dysfunctional way it was. There was “blame” on both sides. And it never came to a nice tidy resolution.
“I guess I’d better forgive,” I continued. (Remember this was two weeks after a life-changing decision thrust upon us – one we had no part in making and no warning of its coming.”)
My wise friend responded, “Don’t rush to quick forgiveness without first dealing with the pain and anger. And when you think you have forgiven and there is more anger, it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It means you have more to forgive.”
It was what I needed to hear. I needed to own the hurt and anger. If I hadn’t, it would have gone down deep inside me and I suspect I would still have it down there somewhere, affecting me and others in ways I could not understand.
And when I did forgive and then had to forgive some more, I didn’t spend time in needless shame, wondering if my forgiveness was real the first time.
I thank God for that dear friend. I have never forgotten his advice.
And I have passed it on to others.
* * *
Linking today with Lisha Epperson and “Give Me Grace Community”. Take a moment to visit her post this week. I always love visiting her blog. Take a moment to say hi in her comments as well. While we write because we write, hearing from our readers is one of the things we enjoy the most.
When I Am Afraid I’m depending Too Much on Others
(This is the first is a series of posts entitled “No Easy Answers” which will also be included in the Memoir I am writing for my family.
Psalm 77 has long been one of my favorite Psalms. Opening with a desperate cry to God for help, the writer pleads to be heard. Losing hope, he wonders “How long, Lord, how long.” Finding comfort elusive, in desperation he says, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD: I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty acts.”
Hope returns. He is comforted. The chapter that began with lament turns to a psalm of praise – for God’s leading, his protection and guidance.
I have found comfort in this Psalm over the years. I have believed the truth of remembering. To remember we need to record God’s activity in our daily lives. I did this. I taught others to do the same.
So why didn’t it work for me anymore – to “remember the deeds of the Lord” and then praise him as I remembered. The changes and challenges seemed too hard, too big. And by this time I knew things don’t always “work out” – whatever that meant. (By the way, please don’t say “it will work out” to those walking in the dark; it minimizes the grief and pain they are experiencing.)
I wished for more faith, felt guilty I didn’t seem to have it. I leaned hard on my friends. They prayed when I couldn’t. They believed for me when I didn’t. They hugged me when I was sad, while encouraging me to embrace the grief and not run from it. My younger pastor friend, who was the age of my brother read everything I wrote, encouraging me to share my story with others and offered to let me be his sister. (I forthwith adopted him). Others made me feel special when I was so unsure of myself by the encouraging words they spoke. One had lost her brother and I knew she knew. They offered no easy answers, because there were none.
They were God to me – God with skin. Yet the question remained, why couldn’t I remember what God had done for me in the past and have it be enough?
And then I noticed the last verse. I had read it many times before, but I saw something new:
“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron”
God led them. He did great deeds.
And . .
God’s leading included the people he sent to them.
Suddenly it all fell into place. Instead of feeling shame at the niggling thought I should have been more faith-filled, not so dependent on others, I read with gratefulness this reminder – even thousands of years ago, using people was one of God’s ways of meeting the needs of his people.
We are not meant to walk this faith journey alone. We need each other. We bear one another’s burdens. Neuroscience has proven we are wired (created) for relationships, for connection with others.
When we remember what God has done and it doesn’t seem enough, let us remember the “deeds of the Lord” include the resources he has given us and often those resources include people.
I am going to include this in our family memoir. Maybe those reading this here on my blog will also enjoy learning more about these things that make it easier for me to sit down, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as I tell you my story.
“A practice is an act that helps you to engage with the process.”
(Vinita Wright, The Soul Tells A Story)
Most Important: Our Family Photo:
You are why I am focusing on Memoir Writing. If what I write does not speak to you, it won’t matter if it speaks to others. You are the precious people God has given to me. To do the work of capturing stories and lessons and insights to share with you, I sit at my desk with five key elements. This is how I write.
Five Key Elements:
A Mug, a Candle, a Glass Heart, a Journal and a Pen with a Message.
A Mug: The coffee mug, cracked, but still usable, reminds me WHY I write. Etched into the pottery are the words from Psalm 78:6 “ . . . that the next generation may know.” (See Why I Write – click HERE)
A Candle: Striking the match and lighting this candle is my way of inviting the Holy Spirit into my writing process, for I see my writing for you as collaboration with God. My candle of choice is a crackling, Woodwick Candle® Fireside Scent. (I wish I could add a “scratch and sniff” feature here.) I bought my first one in Red Lodge, Montana and think of them as Montana candles. Much of my blog writing and memoir project is shaped by the Nov. 8, 2005 event in the Montana wilderness. The friendly cracking sound and the scent say “Write, so others will know what happened here and what happened to you as a result.”
A Glass Heart: A few years ago, my friend Karen and I each made a glass heart at Patterson Glassworks as a celebration of our friendship. This heart reminds me to write from my heart. I also remember whose who stood by me during a dark time in my life.
A Journal: Writing first drafts by hand quiets the inner censor and keeps me from editing as I go. It keeps my ADHD mind going somewhat in a linear fashion because it slows me down. Rabbit trail thoughts become starred items in the margin for safe keeping and future reference. Thinking without writing sends me in endless circles.
Inserted in the front of my journal is a message with these words from a friend, to remind me of my calling: “I see you as a courageous writer . . . courageous because you are . . . Writer because you love to write. It is part of who God has made you to be. You are learning to tell and honor your story.”
I will never forget Fall 2012, wrestling with the decision to retire from my 25 year career with a direct sales company. I spent weeks agonizing about this, wondering what I should do when, in one day, a dear friend and later that day, my counselor asked, “What do you want to do?” I could only answer softly, tears in my eyes, “I want to write.”
That evening, telling your dad about it, I looked down at the pen I had been twirling around in my hand. And there they were, the words: “Pursue YOUR Passion.” I didn’t know what to say, so we kept talking. Finally, holding out the pen to him, I said, “Look.” He looked at me and said “I think you know.” I did.
This pen resided on my kitchen window sill the next two years after retirement, as life took a different turn and writing took a back seat. Now the pen is on my desk.
With the photo of you, my precious family in front of me, reminding who I’m writing for, and these five elements close at hand to help me stay focused and centered, I begin putting down the words, one after another.
Linking up with Lisha Epperson and Give Me Grace Community (following links like this took me to blogs where I ended up making friends
A letter written to my sons on Mother’s Day.
Yeah, I know it is July and way past Mothers’ Day.
Today, May 9, 2015, I celebrate my 33rd Mother’s Day.
Three Daughters in Law
And one husband who started it all with me.
“Be a mother” was #3 on my dream list.
#1 was “Get Engaged.”
Solitare diamond with gold band required
#2 was to “Get Married.”
It was all about a summer wedding with bridesmaids standing beside me in pastels, except we got married in December and the pastels turned into dark avocado green velvet and lemon yellow chiffon. Not to worry. It was 1970 and we were in style.
#3 on my list – I wanted to be a MOM. I could hardly stand the wait for G. to get out of seminary.
And on May 13, 1973, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day.
Scott, you made me a mother. Amazed by you, I simply sat and looked at you in between wondering if you were eating enough (you were) and figuring out if I should rock you when you ate. Grandma said it was OK. (It was.) And my love was deep and strong and fierce.
Gerald, you were born only 19 months later because Jeanie and Lee Williams (Iowa) said it was good to have your kids close together. I forget why. It turned out to be a good idea for us. I was afraid I didn’t have enough love for two babies. You taught me I did.. And my love for you was deep and strong and fierce.
Todd, by the time you were born, I already knew my fierce mother-love was not limited by the number of children I had and I loved you deeply, strongly and fiercely. I was more relaxed by this time and early on your brothers entertained you.
Sometimes I was afraid.
What were we doing, bringing you into such a confused world. “Perhaps they will grow up to be people who make a difference,” your Daddy said.
He was right. You are making a difference.
And I love you with a fierce love.
There was one more big dream.
# 4 – be a Grandma
You grew up, became husbands and fathers and fulfilled my dream.
And I was pretty sure the same fierce mother-love, unlimited by the number of children I had, would be enough for being the grandmother of how ever many grandchildren I would have.
Fierce: (of a feeling, emotion, or action) showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity)
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It seems I have taken an unintended Sabbatical. (You can read my last post by clicking HERE.) I am excited to be back here in this writing space.
Recently my counselor suggested I remember a time/place where I felt Jesus present with me and to stay in that place. I knew right away what it would be. So I took myself to my lake, sat under my willow tree and wrote as I remembered (because if I don’t write –I’d soon be making to do lists)
Summer Camp, A Tree, A Lake & Knowing
written May 21, 2015
I remember all of it.
The campground tabernacle
Up on the hill behind me
The tree where I sat
The lake with the pier
The wooden floating raft beckoning me
I had to pass a swimming test
Before I could answer the call.
(which I passed with my
flailing arms/kicking legs
“Find a quiet place
to be with God
my camp counselor said to us. .
Being a lover of nature,
it’s not surprising I soon found
my pony-tailed, 6th grade,
under the tree
by the lake.
Bible beside me
study guide in my lap
pencil in hand,
filling in the blanks.
And suddenly God was real
I knew that I knew
It was all true, all of it.
God sending Jesus.
Jesus rising from the dead
Mostly I remember Jesus’ presence.
And a knowing
Under the tree,
By the lake.
* * *
And today, my 67-year-old, grown-up self makes a connection I have never made before.
I have always remembered this summer camp experience as the summer of 6th grade
And it was in the spring of 6th grade my little brother died
with no warning
And if God met me then.
And it was all true then
It’s true now.
Tears come as I sense your presence
Leaning into your strength
I put my head on your shoulder
as my grown-up 67-year-old self
relaxes in your love
sitting under the tree
with a journal
and a pen
beside the lake.
Last year we started the tradition (doing it the second time makes it a tradition, right?) of hiding the Baby Jesus from the nativity sets I have around the house and having the children find them, bringing them back to the Nativity set.
Then the children listen to Grandpa “read” the Luke 2 Christmas story.
I say read in quotes because no one can paraphrase a story quite like grandpa, complete with mis-information to make sure the little ones are listening and they always are, happily correcting him!
This year Grandpa was helping set up the nativity sets and didn’t realize this one didn’t have a baby at all.
Having a Nativity set without a Baby Jesus would be a good reminder for us, we thought, of what the world might be like if Jesus had never come. We left it up.
That evening as we celebrated an early Christmas, we challenged the grandchildren think about it.
Their faces were sober.
One of them pronounced it “Bad.”
Seemingly unable to bear the thought,
6 ½ year old Ella
grabbed one of Grandpa’s hats
“I think it would be great if a cowgirl
walked came into the room.”
At first I thought,
“Hey. . .This is serious stuff, kiddos.”
And then I smiled:
Without hesitation they
accept the Story of God
entering into our world.
Immanuel, God with us.
And I prayed they would always believe the importance of HisStory and why He came.
P.S. When Grandpa read the story, he “read” there were Cowboys watching their cattle by night. . . . . Busted!
Remembering my brother,
Gordon Eugene Longenecker,
on the 9th anniversary
of his death at age 49.
Nov. 6th I wrote about The Gift of Fall in a Season of Grief.
Today I continue the remembering with smiles.
It’s been nine years since losing him and it seems like a good time to remember the Gordon we all loved and who drove all of us slightly crazy at some time or another.
Over 500 people attended the memorial service to remember and honor their friend. The photos in this post were taken the day before his memorial service as we made a list that would be the basis for what Galen would share the the Memorial service as a family tribute.
* Stitches, of the Emergency Room type. (LOTS of them)
* Comfortable with people and engaged easily with them. (He never met a stranger)
* Interested in everything and had an opinion about it all.
* Very verbal and gregarious with a wacky sense of humor
* Loyal – Lois Jones, his Mother-in-law elaborates: “He’d see things that needed fixing and would do them for me, but often got the wrong thing from the store first, before he actually got the right thing and fixed it!”
* When he needed to figure out a job, he’d lay on the couch with a pad of paper and pencil and stare at the ceiling until he figured it out.
* He insisted on doing things right and wanted things to be visually pleasing, taking the extra time it took. He wasn’t a duct tape kind of guy!
* Got a fish hook caught in his eyelid, sitting in his truck, trying to get it out of the seatbelt, where it had gotten caught!
* Fell off a ladder while he was at work when Carol was pregnant with their daughter Megan, and needed stitches on his head. Drove himself to the hospital and then called her to tell her!
* A window fell on top of him and he called his mother from the ER, (after he drove himself there) to tell her he’d get to use that hospitalization she had just signed up for.
* Broke his leg the first time he went skiing
* Broke his arm playing in one of his first Little Guy Football games.
* And one of the funniest “accidents” – One day he was cleaning a fish over the kitchen sink with the disposal running so it would grind up the scales as he cleaned it…However, when he dropped the fish, down it went into the running disposal – fish fillet!
NO ONE loved a joke and a good laugh more than my brother and he had one for every occasion, every phone call with the family and anytime he was with a friend. My dad told me the morning of his death he would miss those phone calls, which always ended with a joke, often lame, but you just had to laugh. for example:
* Two cannibals were eating a clown. The one cannibal said to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?
* A man went to a psychiatrist and said “I’m a wigwam. I’m a teepee. I’m a wigwam. I’m a teepee.” And the psychiatrist said “Relax! You’re too tense (tents!)”. I can just still hear Gordon telling that joke. It was one of his better ones! Shared by Carol, his wife
A few of the things Gordon would say and do:
* “I understand, but I disagree with you!” He had unique phrases for every situation – always a new one, so they never got old. He loved telling a story and every time he told it, the story was longer and more elaborate.
* Loved to learn and talk about anything, especially off-the-wall topics, cell phones, his GPS, computer, how to paint (he was a painting contractor) and sports of any kind.
* He loved his church and his church soft ball league. He and one of this friends were the “old guys and he had recently started to play squash with a new friend.
* Galen, his brother in law, said when they played golf together, Gordon never got upset by a bad game because each hole was a new adventure and a chance to redeem his game. He rarely kept score.
Living out and communicating his faith:
One of the things I loved most was hearing how Gordon communicated his faith. One of his friends, Keith, added these comments a few years later as Carol and I visited with him at a coffee shop in Billings:
“When talking to me about God before I was a Christ follower (and I am one because of him) he never preached, or quoted scriptures. He told stories. And would often play devil’s advocate. He would ask questions like “what if. . . why . . . have you ever thought . . .” and then he’d jump up and say “I’ve got to go,” again, leaving you thinking.” For over two years Keith said Gordon was his “spiritual mentor” and it is because of him he is a Christian husband, father, business man.”
* * * * *
I miss you.
I am beyond grateful God answered my seven year-old prayer for a baby brother.
I”ll always love you, Little Brother.