Still Here and Still His

Of Life, Love and Loss. Of Knowing and Being Known. On Being His.

Category: Marriage

Life in Color

We’ve come a long way.

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This past year was rather remarkable. Remarkable not so much by what happened, but by how things have come to be. 

Aedan (13) has grown taller (and, of course, wiser). We are equal in height, I expect for not much longer. He is most often pushing open the door to his independence while I’m on the other side holding it halfway shut with my foot. We try to meet in the middle, generally finding understanding (sometimes frustration), while aiming for delight and laughter.

Eli (11) has deepened his ability to intrigue and amaze me and others. If he could discover a magic trick or create a robot that could complete his schoolwork and eat his veggies for him, he’d be on cloud nine. He is always making something new, and enjoys the process more than the end result. Having the heart of an artist is not always (if ever) easy, but it is beautiful.

Jo Isaac (8) has become stronger–in heart, body and soul. He is my mix of cuddles and chaos (though my definition of “chaos” is likely much more mild than what that term defines). I appreciate how he engages with the world around him. He has almost outgrown my lap, which saddens me immensely.

It seems that now instead of tears and tantrums in our home, it’s more often words and conversations…perhaps heated discussions. We explain and reason with one another, we love and forgive. The boys ask many questions–questions that I would never think to ask. I answer them, sometimes. More often I recommend they go ask someone else more suited to answer (so if they ever show up on your doorstep asking some random yet “suited-for-you” question, I likely sent them).

I had always expected this would be Jeremy’s prime season of parenting. I could easily handle the babies and toddlers but I hoped he could oversee the kids once they could think for themselves. I wanted him around to help teach them how to know God, to help guide their view of the world, to aid them in understanding themselves. Yet in his absence, our family has been supported and our growth assisted in many ways, through various people. My goal as their mother is to hold them with loving yet open hands, lest I hold them too tightly and never let go. Not having Jeremy here has helped me do so because I’ve had no other option but to need others’ help.

As for me…

C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed about the spiral of emotions that is experienced in a tragedy like the loss of a spouse–how you often feel that you are spiraling, yet never quite sure of the direction. From my experience, I found that even if I had been spiraling upward, one moment of stress or overwhelming request placed upon me, one familiar scent or the change of seasons, one thought of a past memory or glance at an image of the life we once had, would change the trajectory and stability of my heart. Those experiences for me, though not obsolete, are much less frequent.

The best I can describe is that something awoke in me this past summer. Life isn’t about recovery from tragedy anymore. There is a lot I could say about that—too much, really—but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Nothing in our life has changed all that much, but my heart seems positioned in a different way. Perhaps it’s just more full.

I say that because though this past year was filled with various circumstances in our family–some incredibly difficult, others surprisingly delightful—most days I’d go to bed and think, “I can’t believe I get to live this life”.  And to say that without Jeremy’s presence is significant. As I’ve written before, there were days past when I thought the best years of my life were over. Perhaps they are. But I can look back at the past few years and still say that they have been good and worth every day of living. Our days have been infiltrated with the constancy of the Lord’s presence (whether obvious and felt, or not) and the beauty, strength, and joy of faithful friends, neither of which I take for granted. He has never left me. I have never been alone.

600514_4969801436266_166949263_nFive years ago, Jeremy snapped this pic while celebrating our 10th anniversary. I glanced at it the other night and thought, “He’s dying. I can see it in his eyes”. I didn’t recognize it back then, but those eyes weren’t the eyes I had seen for the previous nine years of our marriage.  His eyes, though filled with hope, were saying goodbye to a world and life he so badly wanted to hold onto. And I noticed how I stood beside him with color that dressed up his gray.

Several months ago a woman at church kindly suggested that I needed to wear more color. Little did she know my closet has been filled with grays and navy blues for years now. This is in part because I’m a minimalist in the wardrobe department due to my distaste for shopping, but mostly because it’s how I’ve felt. So I chuckled and said, “Well, it’s kinda how I feel”…gray and navy suit me well.

But I get it now. The color is rising in me.”I will restore to you the years…” (Joel 2). The Lord promises to do so. And in certain ways, He already has.

Blessings to you, dear family and friends. May 2017 be a year that you are drawn closer to Him.

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Where I’ve Been & Where I’m Going (III of III)

Jeremy once wrote a song about his indecisiveness. While I’ve never considered myself as having the strongest of opinions, neither have I considered myself indecisive. Give me two options, I’ll pick one (…just don’t ask me to come up with the options). That is, until these past few years. Now I feel that I am, most often, indecisive. Last spring I painted my kitchen five times until I got it the right color (for the most part). Ask me to make holiday plans with three viable options and I spend weeks trying to decide how to navigate our travels. I likely despise my indecisiveness now just as much as Jeremy despised his then. It seems I am constantly questioning my decisions, often frustrated that I must either carve my own path in this life or discern the mysterious path God has me on, with three growing lads in tow.

I often wonder, what has changed in me? When Jeremy was sick I was strong and stable, able and assured, sufficient and decisive. These months I have been hardly any of those things, which may not be obvious to you if you see the life I live. The boys and I are happy and active. We’re in community with others. We long to love and serve God and be a part of His kingdom work (and when we don’t long to, we get on our knees and pray that we would). We see and experience beauty, kinship, the grace of God.  And … we are also frustrated and sad and alone. There was a weekend recently when nothing felt right: our home, our space, our commitments, not to mention our future, our past, or our here and now. Perhaps my indecisiveness is a symptom of lingering grief. It’s difficult to make decisions–large or small–when so many past decisions were out of my control. It’s difficult now to know what it is I even want, when for years Jeremy’s health dictated much of our lives.

I also once had exactly what I wanted: my role as Jeremy’s wife felt perfect for me. I admired and stood in awe of almost all he did. I wanted in on what God was doing with his life from day one. I trusted him to make wise decisions for our family. While he never took advantage of my willingness and desire to follow and support him, it wasn’t until our final few years together that both of us began to realize that my lack of opinion and my willingness to follow–though right and good in most all circumstances–probably curtailed my own ability to grow independently, or at least kept me from being more aware of what God was doing in me and with my life. And, since I married at the ripe young age of 19, I skipped out on single life pretty much all together.

falling rainIn the wake of his death and the sudden way in which all of life became my own, I don’t often feel like a healthy, confident person, though I wish I did. I generally still feel like I’m free-falling and, on my worst days, flailing due to fear, frustration, sorrow, or any combination of tantrum-like emotions. Some days I mistake a cliff for actual solid ground, sometimes thinking we’ve landed somewhere only to find we haven’t quite reached the foothills. In this experience, I can not even begin to explain how much my heart yearns for a sense of ‘rightness’, for direction, for a ‘knowing’ of God’s call and His nearness, nor can I explain how much that longing alone on some days seems to cripple my heart. I struggle to pray persistently, yet I refuse to settle for anything less than God’s presence and anointing in our lives. Still, I don’t know where I want to be.

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I began this three-part post quite some time ago; now the entire summer has gone by and a good portion of autumn. Two months ago, the “where I’m going” was an open field. There were days where my mind wandered to moving; would we and could we move from a home that has been mine almost my whole life, the only home the boys have known? Would it actually make our future easier to be out of the space that holds our entire past? I had days where I envisioned working–with a feeling like I ought to –even if I prefer to be home. I thought of all the ministries I could engage in, all the things I could volunteer for. So I pondered and prayed through these things, hoping that something would fall into my lap. And if nothing ‘fell into my lap’ I dreamed of all the time I would have to tackle the many projects at home that I’ve never had time for: Jeremy’s studio, which has awaited my attention for three years, his journals, his sermons, the bins of pictures from years of traveling. I envisioned being in a quiet home, at a desk, writing.

As it turned out, all of that dreaming was put to an end the final weeks of August. I was offered a position at the boys’ school working in the student health office, where I nurse middle schoolers back to health or send them home. It’s practical and fitting: I’ll be better able to provide for the boys while having their same school schedule–holidays and summers off.

Sounds good to me.

Seems like God’s provision.

Feels like a good next step.

It wasn’t until I walked through that door that I realized it closed several others, at least temporarily. It put an abrupt ending to a rather pleasant summer. Instead of enjoying the freedom of those final weeks of summer, I spent time setting up a new health office, getting to know staff, renewing my CPR certification, things of that sort. And although I acted decisively, doubt left me at moments trying to catch my breath, wondering all over again if I had made the right choice, if this will be a life-giving season for our family, or if I chose something good in the place of something else that would have been the best, had I just waited a bit longer.

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But I think the fear that lingers even deeper in me is the fear that the best has already passed. At 33 years old, this ought to still be the prime of our family life. But the ship has sunk in the vast ocean, I’m sitting in a lifeboat awaiting the Rescuer to come to our aid, while doing my best to paddle and keep our hearts above water. Some days we sing and smile. Some days we fuss and cry. But every day we are just hoping for a glimpse of land or for a peace of mind that remains rock solid.

What is somewhat absurd about this rambling is that I am tangibly surrounded by numerous blessings and provisions….how is it that I could feel aimless or dissatisfied? Am I really so blind? Why can’t all the goodness sink in more deeply, informing my heart in the places where I seem to need it most? The reality that the best is yet to come sustains me fully and wholly in regards to the eternal but seems to leave me wondering and wanting in the here and now. Add to that how stubborn I’ve become–stubborn in my grief–and I’m finding that I require more chiseling and comfort than one may hope or expect.

FullSizeRenderNevertheless, at 2:30 every day I close the door to my office and I’m done. No papers to write, no deadlines. Just a normal job and an everyday life that is filled to the brim. I trust that as I aim to provide for the boys, God will provide for me–and for us–all that we need and more than we could imagine. It may be that I battle indecisiveness and fragility for a while, cynicism even. God may have to pursue and awaken my heart to even the smallest of invitations; many things may have to drop into my lap (and my kitchen may need to be painted several times over…), but I hope and pray there is a day when decisions come more easily and my heart rests more confidently. Aedan reminded me just a few weeks ago that if we are God’s and He is with us, then we are exactly where we are supposed to be. (I’m sure glad he listens in from time to time.)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:8-13)

For Who We Will Be

God Himself looks at us, not as we are, but as we are to Christ; and loves us, not for our sake, but for Christ’s sake, and for His own sake, because of something in Himself which cannot help loving even the unlovely. And then, God always looks beyond our present to the future ideal, which His love has for us, and to which, it is bringing us. God sees us, not as we are today, but as we shall be by and by, when He has accomplished the purpose of His grace in us, and we shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father” (A.B. Simpson).

I am grateful that God looks at me through the lens of Christ and that He doesn’t settle with leaving me as I am. How I wish I could love like God does! Reading these words a few months back reminded me of similar words that Jeremy had written on a placard that was placed on our wedding reception tables…

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Things we would want people to know at our wedding:

– There will be no divorce.
– We intend to learn to love the unlovable, practicing that often with each other.
– We anticipate times when we must love each other for who we will be and not necessarily for who we are. Though this may sound escapist and rather cruel on present terms, we believe God loves us in this way – for the potential He sees – for the essence of who we are and are becoming, rather than how we’re acting at the time, thus inspiring us to become all He made us to be. 
– The Beretta is big enough for the both of us. 
– Kids are good. 
– We marry knowing our lives may seem less effective from certain angles. Our ambitions may change, our spirits for adventure may be tamed, our desire to wander may be less inclined to lift these legs, but we believe that effective ministry happens when we first allow God to do His work in our hearts in His way. Learning to love like He loves His church and His children is perhaps the ultimate calling for man – for in this, practiced and observed, man sees God for who He is and in light of that, who can resist Him? We believe this to be the season for that, and believe it will be a far more effective ministry than anything God has wrought up thus far. 
– Contrary to popular opinion, Jen is old enough (and Jeremy….mature enough) to be married.
– We know it may be tough. 
– We know it will be good. 
– And because we don’t know it all, we’re glad that you are here. 
(postscript: there will be no buffet lines in heaven)

I was three weeks shy of turning 20 years old. I knew so little about myself or life, let alone marriage. Jeremy, being 5 1/2 years older, seemed to have a bit more insight (or at least pretended he did). I’m glad Jeremy took the time to expand what our vows implied, for we learned over the years the importance of holding fast to these promises made to God, for one another. Vows are intended to bind us together (to God and to one another); we ought to let them do the work, then, of binding us.

The final line (postscript: there will be no buffet lines in heaven) was meant for fun at the time (isn’t the worst part about wedding receptions the long line for food?). Yet, ten years later, I saw a much longer line coming towards me to offer condolences for a husband gone too early. When I pulled our wedding program out and read that last line I thought, well, isn’t heaven where all God-ward marriages end? The day I married Jeremy I was not thinking about death ever parting us. Now, I’m learning that the death of a spouse is just as much a part of the marriage experience as anything else. In that way (and many other ways) I’ve tasted fully all that marriage was to be for Jeremy and me. It was not the fullness of all I hoped or longed for, or all that it was intended to be prior to the Fall of mankind. But I know we drank in as deeply as we could of all that we were given to share together. And I continue to trust that Jeremy’s death will in some way lead to more life. It may be in small, even unnoticed ways, but it must be there. It was only in death that we were brought to the fullness of life through Christ. The concept that life is born out of death is all over the place in Scripture. It would do us well to look for such things in our lives as well.

When it comes to wedding vows, there is always the decision of whether to write your own or state the traditional ones. Both are good options. We chose the latter. I probably didn’t have an opinion at the time (though I was likely relieved to not have to go through the work of crafting my own), but I remember Jeremy stating something about the gravity, the weightiness, the blessing there is in repeating vows that have been repeated at altars for centuries. There is a “rootedness”; we are joining in on something that is not new, but that has been promised over and over again. It grieves me how often those vows are broken–even great marriages have their own battles within. But to say we loved one another the best we knew how for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, loving and cherishing until death did us part, were vows fulfilled only by the grace of God. Neither of us loved each other perfectly or fully (God alone knows how many mistakes we made). But to know of the perfect love God has for us and to live in the knowledge of that love, made our love more often a joy than a sorrow.

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

“He Himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

These scripture passages were the framework for our wedding ceremony and they remained foundational for our marriage and our prayers throughout all of the seasons we shared. They are no less foundational for me in these days. It goes without saying that here, in this life, we will never be able to love people like God does but it ought not keep us from trying. If God’s love for us becomes irresistible, we won’t be able to resist loving those around us in a similar way.

That little placard at our reception tables ended up being such a foreshadowing of all that was to come…

– There was no divorce.
– We learned to love the unlovable, practicing it often with each other (imperfectly so).
– We often had to love each other for who we were becoming, rather than who we were at the time. Jeremy’s love compelled me into becoming; I think my love for him did the same. As I’ve grieved the loss of Jeremy over the past 2 1/2 years with friends, I’ve shared with them that it was with Jeremy that I grew up. He grew me up. He helped be become. And I grieve some that I am more now who he saw me to be all those years than I ever saw myself to be when I was his. He saw the potential in me and helped carve it out until the day he died. (Maybe I did the same for him.)
– The Beretta was big enough for the both of us. He was so attached to that car that when Aedan came along two years later (it wasn’t big enough for three of us), he parked it up on the Erickson farm. That car drove him on all sorts of roads across the U.S., alone at first and then with  me. (Who gets to do that?)
– Kids are indeed good. Jeremy loved his boys; they know it. And I continue to love them so much.
– Our lives were less effective in some ways once joining together, but not in the most important ways. The sanctification that comes out of marriage is like none other. It was our ultimate calling. The knowledge and insight and coming to know God in the framework of marriage was irresistible to us (and to others as well, I think). The season was too brief but I pray whatever ministry came out of our marriage was effective.
– I guess I was old enough to be married. Jeremy was mature. I trusted him; rarely was I ever afraid to walk where he was walking. And it was only 3 years after our wedding that reality of life and death hit us with Jeremy’s diagnosis of cancer. Then, we grew up even faster.
– It was tough, tougher than we ever imagined it could be. But the difficult roads we walked together made the sweet roads, sweeter still. So we learned to drink it in when it was offered to us.
-It was good. It was so very, very good.
-And had we walked it alone without all of our friends and family, we would have crumbled a million times over.

Thank you, to those of you who celebrated with us 13 years ago and stood in that buffet line, and to those of you who stood in the receiving line at Jeremy’s funeral (do you know how many hugs I got that day? Like…a thousand) and at his burial.

Remember, there’ll be no buffet lines awaiting us on the other side of the grave; it’ll be a feast like none other. Until then, may God’s love compel us to love each other into becoming all who we were made to be and to fully live out all our days. To God be the glory for who we are and for who we will be.

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