Christmas Joy and Grief

I have experienced more emotional ups and downs this week than in a really long time. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve heard that the holidays are hard, but I didn’t understand what that meant. Last year was our first Christmas without Doug, so I thought this year would be easier. But last year everything was so new, we were still in shock. It’s not just about missing Doug during our favorite family time; it’s been about adjusting to this new reality again. Every time my feelings are hurt I’m reminded of how protective he was of me. I realize that knowing he was always there as a safeguard to my heart, ready to go talk to whoever needed it, I felt safe and stronger even if I didn’t tell him every time. 133302_10151094707824067_1239707966_o
He was my comfort. I could sit with him near me and feel comforted and safe. It helped that very seldom in our thirty years of marriage was he the one who hurt me.

I don’t know how we had the relationship we did. I know we both cared more about the other than ourselves, and we both sacrificed gladly for the other. I don’t mean just a little; we each gave everything of ourselves to the other. Some people told us we were dysfunctional and unhealthy. (I can’t remember any of those who are still married.) Honestly, maybe it was dysfunctional, but it wasn’t unhealthy. We must realize that, although there are ideals for emotional health, none of us are free of wounds and misconceptions. If I had demanded that Doug not be messed up from his childhood, we would have failed. If Doug had demanded that I not suffer from depression and anxiety, we would have failed. Both of us would have walked away more wounded than when we began. Instead, we did things our own way. Our children became part of that amazing love-filled dysfunction. For better or worse, they were blessed with our mess.

Doug loved me through horrible depression. He was more patient and kind than anyone I’ve ever known. I wonder if he felt about that the way I felt about walking through his issues with him. I was up for all of it; spiritual battles, counseling, reminding him what was real, helping him understand “normal” vs. abuse responses. We somehow created a safe cocoon in which we each allowed the other to be our truly messy selves—not only be messy, but be loved through in the middle of the messiness. I knew he had me on a pedestal, I tried to get him to see that I didn’t deserve it, but he wouldn’t let me fall off. I adored him, admired him, loved him fiercely. I don’t know how we became that team. Perhaps part of it was because as each of our difficult things came up, we didn’t balk and wonder what we’d gotten ourselves into. I saw his and knew that God had made me exactly what Doug needed. My life experiences through childhood trained me to be the best partner for him, and I couldn’t believe how patient he was with me. I knew I needed to change, and his kindness helped me do that.

That relationship, with all the craziness around us, was our sanity. It’s why I could sink into God to become strong and full of joy. It’s how Doug healed and thrived after suffering through a horrendous childhood. It’s why I am now able to look at my future with peace and happiness. If I had regrets because we hadn’t been good to each other, I think it would be harder to move forward. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see Doug walk out his healing more. I wanted to see us fulfill his dreams together. Now, however, I must believe that he is cheering me on as I discover my own dreams. It seems that because I lived my idea of a perfect marriage, I don’t live looking backward. I had an amazing, fulfilling, healing marriage—a foundational piece of my future and why I’m excited about my life today.

As I read over these ramblings, I realized they’re a perfect example of this Christmas season’s emotional upheavals. I have had such joy, peace, and love; and yet, I have missed everything that Doug was and everything we were together. How does Christmas drive the grief deeper and simultaneously bring it to the surface? How does this grief make the love that fills my life feel more present?

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“I have confidence, in Christ, inside of me.”

About twenty-five years ago, I received a prophetic word addressing how I doubted myself after speaking. I would beat myself up, worrying that I had spoken too soon, or been foolish in what I said or how I said it. The word I received said that I hadn’t been foolish or spoken too soon, but that God was going to be building me up on the inside so that I would say,

“I have confidence in Christ inside of me.”

I held onto that sentence. I repeated it when I sank into depression or had to face any of the many challenges that Doug and I experienced in life. For many years, it was my lifeline, reminding me of Christ in me, the hope of something glorious. It was my promise that I was not yet what I would be.

I’ve come to realize that the promise is multi-faceted. It started with me having to accept that when I thought God gave me something to say to someone, I needed to trust that even if I were mistaken in whether it was his prompting or not, I needed to just say it. Another part of that prophecy was that I was to be an encourager, so that’s how God helped me break through doubting every word I spoke. I just started speaking the encouraging, uplifting things that came into my head for people. Strangers aren’t safe from encouragement from me!

I became supremely confident in Christ in me when in spiritual warfare. Believe me, Doug and I saw many serious spiritual battles. Through that, I came to a place of never doubting God’s sovereign rule and authority. Satan is not God’s nemesis! He is not God’s evil twin. He isn’t even equal to us! Another part of that prophecy was that Doug and I had, “…a marriage made in heaven… overcoming every demon in hell.” We didn’t have to fight every single one, but because of the confidence I have in Christ inside of me, I know I could!

I learned that the confidence I had simply must be in Christ. It couldn’t be in man, or the church, or leaders, or anyone but Christ. It HAD to be in Christ. When God took us in directions that no one else was going, I had to hang onto him, and him alone. I am incredibly grateful that he took us to the places he did. I have a kind of trust and confidence in him I could not have imagined was possible. It’s unbelievably freeing to strip away the box that man has put God into to keep him understandable and manageable. The thing is, it’s not freeing for God, because he was never in the box. We’re the ones who need to open the box and let God be God, whatever that means to our doctrine and traditions.

I’ve struggled with trusting in God’s opinion of me and in financial freedom, because the two were linked. For many years, I felt that God loved me, but he didn’t really like me much. It felt like he blessed his other kids and gave them gifts, but his feeling toward me was basically, “meh.” I wrestled with the thought that his plan for me was to learn to live with emotional and physical pain, poverty, and rejection; enduring all with grace, to be an example of how to be a good little Christian. I no longer believe that, but I also can’t seem to grasp the truth that God’s plan includes changing my financial state. I know it, but I don’t have confidence in it. I learned to relinquish self-serving control a long time ago. I know that I wasn’t meant to remain in poverty. He assured me of that. But I couldn’t grasp that it could happen. For the thirty-plus years of my adult life, I haven’t experienced more than two consecutive months of being financially okay; of paying all the bills and having grocery money. I’m not exaggerating. That was our life. Since losing Doug, God has covered us through the generosity of wonderful people and all our household being employed. Even with miracles, I couldn’t grasp the Truth that my financial freedom was going to be a reality. I’ve lived with that fear for so long that I can’t seem to shake it off.

As I woke up this morning, God was walking me through some thoughts when the Truth hit me in my gut. I have confidence in Christ, inside of me! That confidence in his love for me, his plan for me, his excitement over all he’s doing and is going to do in my life… I have that confidence inside me already! I can say, I have confidence—in Christ—in the fact that he is who he says he is. We’ll sometimes see a strong character in books and movies, who is that steadfast, unchanging friend and mentor who anchors the hero of the story. Like a Samwise Gamgee/Gandolf the White perfect mix, Christ inside me is that confidante and caring mentor. I can have the same deep knowing that he is the unfolding of his own promises to me, as powerfully as I know that I have authority over every demon of hell because of who he is for me!

I’m levelling up! He promised, I fought the good fight to believe for those promises, and now I feel as if I’m about to enter the biggest open space in God that I’ve ever experienced. I’m walking through a new door into the land of promise, and it’s way more than just comfort and ease. It’s a place of adventure and excitement and more worlds to conquer.

I’m going to get revenge for all the years of suffering. I walked side-by-side with Doug, holding his hand, suffering along with his pain, so I’m going to get revenge for him, too! You might argue that, “’Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord.” That’s because his idea of vengeance is far above ours, and he wants us to learn how to get real vengeance. In God’s version of vengeance, I get free, then I get to take from the enemy others who are under his grasp in the very same areas that I was.

I have this confidence in Christ inside me that he is my good friend and confidante. I have confidence in Christ inside me that I will hold out a hand to bring others into freedom. I’ll become what I deeply desire—one who says, “Come this way! I’ve found the One who broke open my shackles, the very same shackles you’re wearing right now! He will be your freedom. He will be the confidence inside you!”

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The Opposite of Grief

What is the opposite of grief? Love is the opposite of fear. Peace and faith are the opposites of worry and anxiety. I think hope is the opposite of depression. When we practice love, peace, faith, and hope, they weave together to form a strong foundation and covering, leaving less room for fear and the others to penetrate. But, what is the opposite of grief? You’d think that joy would fit, but somehow it doesn’t. I think my struggle here is that fear, worry, anxiety, and depression are like bullies that shouldn’t do what they’re doing. But grief… It hurts, but it always comes holding hands with love. There is no opposite that conquers it because it’s not a bully. It’s part of love; it’s based in love.

 

I experienced something beautiful. My heart is remembering Doug a lot. My mind can be focused on something—work, driving, checking emails—while my heart is wandering with its own thoughts. I start crying without a specific reason or thought. For about an hour yesterday, the tears were pretty constant. I started out feeling alone and missing Doug terribly; then I felt that I wasn’t alone. God was with me, just being there. I thanked him, and the thanking hurt. I worshipped him, and the worshiping hurt. I gave it all to him, and told him that I loved him, and I thanked him some more.

 

If you’ve ever dived deep into worshiping God from the depths of your being, you know how it can make you weep with a mixture of pain and joy. It feels like it’s too much, but you can’t get enough. This touched on that. In waves, my heart plunged in grief then rose in gratitude. God walked me through the pain, giving me respite in gratitude and love for who he is to me. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it is one for which I am especially thankful.

 

So, while there is no opposite to grief, there is comfort and respite while travelling its path. Grief comes, holding hands with love, allowing the deepest of all loves to minister to the deepest parts of our souls. I’m okay. I’ll hold hands with The Comforter and we’ll hold hands with grief.

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Breaking, or Breaking Through?

This is hard. I keep hearing God tell me to share what I’m walking through as I’m walking through it, and don’t wait to figure it out. It’s hard to do because I do not in any way believe it’s helpful for me to vent or rant. I try to never focus on bad stuff and difficult circumstances, even if they’re what I face every day. I want to acknowledge them, but keep my focus on God. I want to learn from Peter and not let my concentration fall from the face of Jesus to the thrashing water at my feet. This is hard because I don’t like it, and I feel like it’s not going to help anyone; and what’s the purpose of writing something that won’t help anyone? Or at the very least, what’s the good of posting it? For some reason known only to God at this point, I have to write it and I have to post it.

Everyone says we should be “realistic” about hardships, and I agree; but what exactly does realistic mean? While it may be a fact that our bills are two months behind, the reality is that God is our provider and that he hasn’t forgotten us. We live in better conditions than people we see every day. It may be a fact that we don’t make enough money between the four of us to meet the basic bills each month; but the reality is that we are all employed. The reality is that God brought this job to me. I didn’t apply for it. A placement agency rep saw my resume and contacted me. This is what I mean. I see the work of God in my life, in my family’s life, and I get excited for all he’s doing. That’s what I want to focus on, but each month my eyes turn to the facts of our bills and lack of income.

At any moment in time, the facts of our situation are what they are. At every moment, I have to choose whether to face them with unbearable dread or as an exciting adventure. I do well until it gets down to the wire. I am frustrated that in all of life, this is my biggest hurdle. It’s like a double edged sword. One side is the lack of reasonable, reliable, consistent income; the other side is the inability to separate money from fear. I am so sick of that fear!

I don’t like the word hate, but I hate this! I hate that I’ve actively been trying to get over this issue for so many years. I hate that I should have conquered it by now. I hate that I allow fear to steal my joy. I hate that because money is almost synonymous with fear and nausea, my life is like a paddle ball, with money coming and going, but never settling down and always bouncing away. I know that my mindset needs a major breakthrough. I know that I know that I know that this is the change that must happen. And despite trying and failing year after year after year, I know it’s possible. God has been putting his finger on this area because he’s bringing about the change in me.

Do you realize that I had less fear last year dealing with cancer and losing Doug? How crazy is that?  There were times when fear rushed through me like ice water washing my bones, but I was always able to retreat to my hiding place in God. I cried, I sobbed, I wanted to run but there was nowhere to go; but always, I could sink into the immenseness that God is, and know that I was held. Last year, with its cancer and heartache and death, was a beautiful, intimate journey with God. Joy, peace, love, and strength were our companions. It wasn’t always harmonious and never easy, but there is nothing like being hidden in the Father. Doug and I were able to go there together, and perhaps that is the biggest blessing of all.

All that we faced last year did not have me in its grip the way this stupid financial fear does. That also frustrates me. How can I have faced that and come through stronger and more convinced of God’s goodness and kindness, and be crippled by this? I want this breakthrough. I want this part of my journey to be done. Its time to move forward. I want to see money problems and any fear of money only in my rear view mirror.
I don’t know how sharing this problem can help anyone when I have no solution to share, but here it is. All I have is this verse that keeps repeating in my mind.

 

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;

I will sing and give praise.”

Psalm 57:7

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The Blessing Continues

Last Friday and Saturday were a feast to my extroverted soul! I met up with high school friends from my senior class. I can’t describe the depth of love I have for these friends. Friday was filled with hours of discussion and pictures of our lives and children, and catching up on how we’ve grown and changed in the past thirty-two years since we graduated. It wasn’t mundane. It was time to connect like we couldn’t as kids.

We were friends in high school, but now, although we may have divergent paths, there is more to relate to, more depth behind our conversations, and more calm confidence mixed in with all the laughter. I looked around and saw so much beauty in the souls behind those faces. These people are amazing! They’re funny, generous, caring, ambitious, and willing to see the growth and change in old friends. They, like I, are realizing what a great time of life we’re in. I didn’t see the competition and angst of our teen years (thank God!) I could see the wonderful, differing personalities. We’ve mellowed with age like a good wine…or microbrew…or grapefruit beer thing… what was that, anyway???

Small things like the cadence and voice of one of my friends, and the kindness and generosity of another brought a bigger smile to my already smiling face. So many smiles! My own and all around. I know it was a special time and we won’t go home and smile all day, every day. We have heartache and hurts and hard work ahead; but man! What a great break and a beautiful reminder to smile; to embrace joy!

These were special days with special friends. Please, let’s not lose touch for another thirty-two years!

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The Blessings Begin

I can’t find the words to express what wonderful, beautiful experiences I’ve been having. I arrived in my old hometown on Tuesday, May 16th. I’m on a bit of a pilgrimage Continue reading

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Taking Steps, Always Forward

I just took a huge step toward my future. I applied for a grant Continue reading

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The Ugly Side of Honesty

Sometimes, honesty is hard. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard. I’ve been honest with you all along. I promise, every bit of uplifting and positive attitude has been real. It’s where I live. I’ve shared some of the tough times and thoughts that are part of this journey, but I don’t like to share all the hard times because I abhor the idea of being weak and whiny, or high maintenance; and I expect those times to be moments here and there, and then to get back to home base where I abide in God’s peace and love for me. However, this other part of my experience has been dragging on for a couple weeks, and creeping up even before that. I feel that it’s necessary for me to share what’s going on even though it’s not positive, and at the moment, I can’t even see a positive spin to put on it. I’m just not doing well. Maybe after I spill my guts I’ll have my equilibrium back and will see my way back to resting and hiding in God.

Some of the emotional upheaval I experience is part of the grieving process, but some of it is leftovers from My One Big Battle: Fear of Financial Ruin. That’s a horror movie to keep the crowds awake at night. I told you before that God has taken care of us and we have the basics paid for. This is true, but it’s getting harder and harder to meet those needs. In addition to rent and utilities and groceries, I realized that there’s a basic need in our society that I forgot about; transportation. We already lost my car, and we’re about to lose both Evan’s and Doug’s. We just haven’t had the money to make the payments. I know that God is taking care of us, and that he knows about the cars, but my battle is in my mind. Fear takes over where faith and trust had left doubt in the dust. The tables are flipped on me, and I’m the one who flipped them!

My frustration is not necessarily with our situation, although that is a small part of it. My frustration is from not having control of my thoughts, from not winning in this battle against fear. Perfect love casts out fear. If fear exists, then I need more love. God has shown me his love over and over. I feel foolish coming to him yet again, needing more of his love to get past this. At some point, aren’t I supposed to grow up and just stop? Stop it. Stop being fearful about money. Doesn’t he deserve my trust? Hasn’t he proven himself? I don’t understand how I could get through everything I did last year and trust him through such frightening, unknown territory and such heart wrenching experiences almost daily, and trust him with everything, even up to the end. And yet…why this fear? Why this old enemy?
I realize that I’m only human and that everyone has something like this, and that it’s understandable considering what our financial situation has always been (we have been destitute and homeless.) I’m not beating myself up or expecting too much from myself. I just don’t want to pat myself on the back and say it’s okay and stay in this place. I want to bust past this and live the full life that God has for me! I want to be triumphant and victorious! I want free! And, I want to help free others. I am only frustrated because I know, without a doubt, that I can have this. I will live in freedom!

So, whew. This is me being honest. I make no excuses for myself.

I have a vacation coming up. Out of the blue and totally unexpectedly, a friend paid for my airfare for a 2-week trip, and other friends have opened their homes to give me a place to stay. This is a huge gift! This is something I need desperately and could not have dreamed of doing, but God used some wonderful people to bless me. I’m going back to my roots and I have a sense that God has something more planned for me than just a bit of R & R. I want to minister to the people I see throughout that trip. I want to bless others so much that they want me to come back over and over!

God is blessing me and carrying me. I won’t be able to conquer fear of financial ruin until I can look it in the face from the place of abiding in love and know it has not sway over me. I guess I don’t have a positive spin for this issue. All I have is honesty and the determination to keep fighting the habit of fear. I need your prayers if you can bring me to our Father in your own conversations with him. I wish I had a nice, neat ending for you, but this is the best I can do. I will not give up. I will not forget all that God has done for me. I will continue to look to him, even when I must drag my eyes off the problem every two minutes. I will continue to look up from fear and into the face of love.

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Baptism and Pie Crust Cookies

Kruse Kids 1971ishToday marks a year since we lost my brother, Brian. I’ve been missing my family, worrying a bit about my parents, and thinking about my siblings. Last night I made chicken pot pie for dinner and had leftover crust. So, of course I had to make pie crust cookies. You see, when I was four years old, my dad went away to the war in Viet Nam. Continue reading

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Do Me A Favor?

It’s been a rough week. I’m getting to know myself all over again, and in some ways, it feels like the first time. I was nineteen when Doug and I got married, so I was never a single adult. I’m still me, still that crazy girl, but I love the person I’ve grown into over the years. I know I’m better because of Doug. He was so good to me, so patient and affirming. He adored me and pretty much thought I pooped rainbows. If I believed everything he said about me I wouldn’t be able to walk through the door, my head would be so big.

He always pointed out my strengths. If I were bemoaning a weakness, he made excuses for why it was okay or not as bad as I thought, or he’d say that I had already improved in that area. One of his attempts at deflection that made me laugh was when he would point out some strength that had absolutely nothing to do with what was bothering me, and say that because I was (insert anything good here,) nothing I was worrying about could be a problem. But the thing that always seemed to turn my face back to the path ahead was when he talked to me about how much he loved my relationship with God. It wasn’t just the details that he observed in that relationship; he gained strength and encouragement from it. My churning emotions would become calm. I was like Peter, walking on the water but looking at the waves; and there was Doug, lifting my face to look back at Jesus.

How amazing that someone so broken and hurting could be so strong and tenderhearted. I am blessed to have been deeply loved. I am blessed to have been greatly admired. Will you do me a favor? Look at your spouse, children, loved ones of any kind; and when you find what you can admire in them, do it with intention. Look at those beautiful and good things about them and thank God for them; then tell them what you see. Look at their relationship with God with an eye to see the uniqueness, and love that part of them more; then tell them what you see. Live that way. It will change your lives and the world around you. It changed mine.

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