Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Painful Reality of Becoming a Woman of Strength


Ephesians 3:16: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being
We all want to be women of strength. However, we likely do not desire all of what it takes to become her. Physical strength, emotional strength, spiritual strength and mental strength all require discipline and hardship. We long for the end result but we don’t want to endure the road that leads us there. We pray for God to make our life easy and instead he promises to discipline those he loves. He does this to develop strong characteristics within us.
Proverbs 3:12:  Because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
I can vividly remember three specific times in which I was told that I was a strong woman and they all were birthed out of hardship. The first was after my husband Mark died. “You are so strong!” people would tell me when they would find out the grief I had gone through. People would say that they didn’t think they could survive like I had. The truth is, they likely would have. They would have because they would have no other choice. We must all go on and with God’s help, we can. I wouldn’t have thought it possible myself until I was in the depths and God led me through. Trusting in God and leaning on Him provides the ability to endure.
The second time I was commended for being strong was after running a marathon. My physical strength was built to a level that I had once never imagined possible. I remember watching my best friend’s sister run a marathon many years ago and thinking it was an impossibility for me. I started with a few miles and after much training, I completed 6 marathons in 3 years. This physical strength was built through hours of sweating the many tiresome miles of training. It was not an easy accomplishment and this is why it tasted so sweet to reach the finish line. Discipline leads to achievement.
The third time I was commended for being strong was after the birth of my child this past July. I labored for hours, many without pain relief, and eventually delivered a healthy baby boy. The physical pain that I experienced was worse than I had imagined and my husband, who watched it all, praised me for my strength. Ever since then, I have a new found respect for what women all over the world go through! I have to admit, I felt a bit feminist after the birth as I thought surely there is nothing women cannot do. We endure terrible pains for the outcome of a beautiful child. We endure pain to birth life.
“If you meet a woman of whatever complexion who sails her life with strength and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead.” -Sena Jeter Naslund
A woman of strength is one who is not merely physically fit, but one who is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong as well. Developing strength requires constant discipline and it is often built through hardship. By focusing less on ourselves and more on God who gives generously to those who ask, your strength can be built on every day. It is something to strive for daily in prayer and in action.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

When The Good Times Bring Up Grief

Three months ago I married a truly remarkable man. We met in a way that many believe, could only have been of God's design. He has had the strength to hear about my past and to read my memoir. He has allowed me to talk about my grief and he has comforted me when I have cried. He has many of the wonderful qualities that Mark did, but he is also completely different. Mark loved to go to bed early and my new husband loves to stay out late. He makes me laugh so hard my stomach hurts and he loves to dance. Two things that I didn't have in my previous relationship. I love him and I am grateful that God has brought him into my life.

As our wedding approached, I was filled with excitement and surprisingly, also grief. Planning the wedding brought up memories of my wedding to Mark. It was a time of joy sprinkled with some sorrow. It surprised me some as I had never been told that the good times can bring up the dark ones.

It bothers me when I hear how happy people are that I have "moved on." They mean well, but the term "moved on" disturbs me. I have not "moved on" from Mark. I will always love him and miss him. Each friend you have is unique and different. If you lose a friend, you don't replace him or her with a new one. The same is true of a spouse. I love my new husband in a different way as I am a different person now and he is a different man. I believe the term "moving on" implies that you don't think about or grieve the past. I do though. The past is a part of who I am.

As I have adjusted to my new married life, many memories have been brought to life. It stirs up emotions that have laid dormant. At times it surprises me and at times I expect them.

I will cherish these gifts that God gives for even though life is bittersweet, it is also good. For this, I express my gratitude.






Thursday, October 25, 2012

Perspective


Perspecitve. It changes everything.

When I was left a widow at the young age of 29 in suburban Chicago, I felt as though my story was one of the most tragic I had ever known. When I compared my life to those around me in the affluent suburb in which I lived, I seemed to be so alone. I felt as though everyone else lived happily in their marriages with their beautiful children and in their comfortable homes. I know better now.

After Mark died, I traveled back to Africa with my in-laws. We visited a widow's colony and I met women who were not only widowed, but forced to live on their own, barely surviving. They lived together as a community and the organization that I was with was there to build them a well for fresh water. My eyes filled with tears as the reality of what I was experiencing sank in. It was difficult to comprehend and it certainly wiped out any self pity that I was experiencing.

Yes, I was widowed. Yes, I had experienced grief on a very deep level. Yes, my heart ached for my husband who I missed with everything in me. However, I was a young American woman who lived in a country in which I was free to pursue work and goals and dreams. I was also supported by those around me. The community didn't shun me, but instead supported me. I had much to be grateful for.

In this African village we were touring, we were allowed into the homes of some of the residents. These homes, which were mud huts, were taken care of with pride even though there was nothing to them. In one of them, I noticed a hand made wall hanging on the otherwise bare mud walls. It said, "Learn to appreciate even the little that God gives you."

Wow. That hit something so deep within me. It challenged me beyond measure.

Whatever your circumstance, wherever you may be, learn to live in gratitude. If these women in Africa can, certainly most of us can as well. It is a better way to live.

Love. Serve. Give.



A photo of the wall hanging.


If you are a widow and are interested in visiting and serving widows in Africa or India, please let me know. You can contact me through Purposeful Wanderings (www.purposefulwanderings.com) at sarah@purposefulwanderings.com


Read about the city of widows in India:CNN article on widow city in India




Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thought provoking article from New York Times




June 2, 2012

Out of Tragedy, a Good Life

Washington
WHEN I was growing up, I would never have guessed that I could become a United States senator. Both of my parents — my father a Greek immigrant, my mother the child of immigrants — died before I was 10 years old. My aunt, who worked in a textile mill, and my uncle, who was a barber, took me in, and when my uncle died, my aunt struggled on her own to support me and my five cousins.
I realized early on that I had a choice: allow myself to become overwhelmed by tragedies or learn something from them. And thankfully, as I was surrounded by the twin strengths of family and faith, I was positioned to view any setbacks as temporary, not permanent.
These early experiences with hardship also showed me that, while politics wasn’t high on the menu of choices for women in the 1960s, I wanted to be involved in some form of public service, in improving the lives of others. So I majored in political science at the University of Maine and found summer jobs in government, first working for the Office of Economic Opportunity, then the governor’s office. My ultimate goal was to gain employment in Washington after I graduated.
Fate, however, would intervene in my well-laid plans. I ended up marrying instead and stayed in Maine, where I served on the local Board of Voter Registration and worked for William S. Cohen, then a congressman. My husband was in the Maine House of Representatives. But then, one day while I was at work, I received the devastating news that he had been killed in a car accident returning from the Legislature.
At 26 years old, I was left to build a life for myself.
In the following weeks, while I grieved, friends and political leaders began urging me to run in the special election for my husband’s seat. In the midst of my emotional turmoil I realized I could try once again to make something positive out of a terrible negative. I had a degree in political science and a drive to make a difference in people’s lives. So I ultimately decided to run — and I won.
I have never once actually assembled a résumé, but the rest, as they say, is history. After I served in the Maine House of Representatives and State Senate, my aspiration of securing a job in Washington was fulfilled (though in a slightly different manner than I had originally envisioned). I was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1978 and, in 1994, the United States Senate.
The point is, little could I have known that a 40-year journey in elective office would commence just four years after my graduation, with a horrific event that could have been the end for me, rather than a beginning. I would never have wanted to face a crucial career choice at that perilous personal juncture, but it reminded me once again that it is possible to distill triumph from adversity. Because it’s not a question of whether you will encounter difficulties in life; it’s really a question of how you confront them.
Olympia J. Snowe is a Republican senator from Maine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our Favorite Month - Submitted by another young widow

October is coming and there is nothing I can do to stop it. It was our favorite month of the year. And now for the first time I have to live through that special month alone without my husband. We always made so many memories in October. We went on a Caribbean Cruise the year I turned 30 and I got to celebrate that milestone birthday on a beautiful Caribbean island. We always took our annual trip to a local orchard and pumpkin patch to pick out our selection of pumpkins to decorate our front porch with. My husband proposed to me on bended knee on a cool October night. And when it came time to pick the month in which we would be married, we mutally agreed to our favorite month. In a few short weeks I will have to endure the pain that I can not escape. Our wedding anniversary is October 14. It would have been our first anniversary. For the rest of my life I will never get to celebrate that wonderful day with my husband. It will now be a day that I will forever dred every year. My husband and I were not blessed in years but only weeks. I lost my husband in a car crash just nine weeks after we were married and four days before what would have been our first Christmas together. I wish I could fast forward these next few months and start with January again. But I know I can not out run the fall season. It's coming and all I can do is brace myself for the impact of pain that will follow.

Monday, September 17, 2012

No Immediate Solution

I was contacted today by another young widow who asked me about how to deal with the feelings of being so alone in the grief. It has been months since her husband's death and she said no one really asks her about him anymore. She is hurt by this and yet doesn't necessarily want to talk about him either. It is confusing and enraging.

I remember this. I remember the contradicting feelings and the frustration of not knowing what to do with them. You do your best to control them and suppress the immense anger you feel. However, is it healthy? What are the healthiest ways in which to deal with the anger and stress of grief? How does one deal with such intense loneliness and anger and stress and sadness all bottled up within?

I want to say that there is a perfect solution. I want to be able to tell others that you can just do this or that and it makes it all better. The sad truth is that there really isn't much I can say. There are small things here and there. Small choices that added up create a path of healing. It is just that it isn't fast. It doesn't satisfy our desire for an immediate solution and it is a long, hard road.

The best advice I can perhaps give is to choose to find gratitude in your life every day. It can be as simple as food to eat, shelter over your head, your health or your job. Whatever it is, in choosing gratitude, you will eventually choose life. You will eventually choose a much happier life than the one you find yourself in now.

In dealing with the anger, I chose not to dwell in it, which was difficult and something I had to do daily, even hourly. I made myself acknowledge the good in my life, even when it seemed so small. I made myself do something new or I would exercise so that I would feel an endorphin high and ultimately find some gratitude. In doing so, these small expressions of gratitude blossomed and a garden of thanks grew.

Life will continue to throw its difficulties our way. Our job is to determine how we will respond. Life can be a difficult journey, but one in which somewhere along the way, if you choose gratitude, you find yourself eventually out of the darkness, feeling the sun on your face again as you notice the people smiling beside you.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Notes from 30,000 feet (12/8/2011)




As we descend from amongst the clouds and I see the snow frosted peaks cascading into the blanket of barren brown land below, my heart is made heavy. I want it back.

He was killed descending into a mountainous land. His plane crashed and burst into flames. A million pieces scattered on the dry land below. A million pieces of my heart broken. A million smiles and moments of laughter lost.

There is no going back. I must move forward.

Be courageous little girl. You are a grown woman now. You have opportunities and love and life to be lived out. Move those heavy feet and tired soul, you will be renewed. You will find the strength to move on when you take that first step.

The plane lands and I reluctantly step out onto the brown soil below. A new day. A new beginning. Another chance at life. Another opportunity for smiles and laughter and new love.