Death, lemons, and Jesus.

How many times have you heard something similar to: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it? I’m all for encouraging a positive attitude and I like lemonade, but I’m not convinced that humans can summon that kind of power when really bad things happen to us and those we love. Before Jeff died, I had a finite understanding of God’s involvement in my life and probably was convinced it was up to me to make the best of difficult circumstances. I definitely believed in Jesus and was thankful for His blessings, but how much time did He really have to dabble in my daily life and how often could I really count on Him to help me? The unequivocal answer, proven through 17 months of Jeff’s illness and 3 years since his death, is an infinite amount of time and a forever faithfulness that defies human understanding.

I’ve written about the ways in which God comforted our family through Jeff’s illness and death. God provided for us when I had no idea how to do it myself and led me to discover my mad skills in everything from gardening to household repairs, but it’s also important to share how His power has manifested in every area of my life in ways that have nothing to do with my own strength, ability, and knowledge. I cannot begin to list every time that I’ve relied on God since May 4, 2014 when Jeff first became ill. Because of our loss, grief, and the challenges of moving forward without him, our family has grown in ways I never imagined. Sometimes, I don’t even realize how far God has carried me until an event or discussion is so glaringly profound and more extraordinarily moving that anything I ever would have imagined before our life was forever altered.

As I sat next to my son at my father-in-law’s funeral Wednesday, we watched the slide show of his life and we were both struck hard at the same time when the first images of Jeff appeared on the screen with his dad. It was almost like a physical punch in the gut and I think we both let out a slight gasp. Seeing him so healthy and looking incredibly strong and handsome in many photos we had never seen before made us both miss him terribly. I allowed myself to feel my loss in a deep way that I have protected myself from for three years. We cried together, later shared our feelings, and were able to truly comfort one another. I have loved my children with all of my being since before they were born, but God has used our deep loss to gift us with a closeness I’m not sure would have ever existed apart from losing their dad. I got to spend an entire day and evening with Austin and cherished every moment; we no longer take any time together for granted.

I don’t understand if Jeff’s death was part of God’s plan or if He allowed it for a greater purpose, but now I clearly see His hand in every detail of our lives. It was evident that God used my father-in-law’s death to bring the entire Stroud family closer together. I was so happy to make up for lost time and find joy in even the saddest of moments. We laughed with and at one another, ate, sang, and prayed together at the hospital. We also hugged, cried, and found joy together at the funeral. It was a celebration of life, one another, and our hope in Jesus’ eternal promise.

Jeff’s death and the hundreds of times God has made His presence and power known to me in the past four and a half years has taught me that He is completely trustworthy and I can wholly surrender my life to Him. There is no plan I can hatch, no convincing discussion, no attempt in my own power, nothing whatsoever I could have done to orchestrate the beauty that continues to come from the death of my husband and now his dad. I’d scoop Jeff back here the first chance I got, but I am incredibly thankful for the immense love and hope God has given me and my kids in his place. I’d argue that life is 10% of our circumstances and, perhaps, there’s a sliding scale that goes from 0 to 90% revealing God’s power at work in our lives. Our level of surrender and complete trust in Him determines how much He can use us, and that’s where we discover the blessing, the beauty, and the peace that only He can give. Loss apart from Jesus is just sorrow. I’ll keep taking all that He has to give and believe that I have just begun to truly live in the fullness of his mercy,  grace, and power.1tFaIt8iQPu3QwbP5t%F%g

“He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”  Psalms 147:4-5

 

How did I end up here?

A little over a year ago, I mustered up enough courage to attend an evening get together at my church with the goal of meeting some friends and beginning my attempt to fit in without Jeff. I was on time and was surprised to find the doors locked. I was a week early. I mustered again and showed up on the correct day and stood at the entrance of a large room. Ladies were seated at tables and seemed to all know one another. I knew no one but my pastor’s wife who greeted me with a hug and a compliment about my newly blue hair. Not sure why, but I saw a welcoming face and sat at her table. Her name was Natalie and she was friendly, and had a fully intact family. As we rounded the table telling our stories, I couldn’t avoid the fact that I had lost my husband to brain cancer and was living out the grieving process while trying to figure out what my life would become. You could cut the discomfort with a knife.

As has happened many times when I tell my story, everyone was silent. Natalie had a healthy husband and sons. I didn’t go back to the group. Not because of her story, but because there were no stories like my own. No one could relate to the loss of a life partner. One sweet lady explained that she had been divorced and understood exactly how I felt. The other women just didn’t know what to say at all; however, Natalie was an empathetic listener and allowed me to express my pain without trying to make a connection to herself. I also realized how many lives depend on another person staying alive. Most people assume that their spouse will be there for the porch rocking and grand-baby days. I’m not sure if jealously was at the core of what I felt, but I was angry that everyone around me had their husband with whom future plans were discussed and assumptions of continued living were a sure thing.

Natalie’s husband died suddenly last week. My heart breaks for her because I know there was no way she saw it coming. School had just begun and now there she is with her sons figuring out how to live without her husband. I know her loss and I feel her heart bleeding.

September 19 will mark three years since Jeff went to be with the Lord. Unfortunately, there is a big need for someone to listen and connect to women who have lost their husband. Friends, pastors, family, and neighbors have asked me to speak with 7 of these dear women in the span of 3 years. Seven women who woke up alone after years of sharing their life with the man they loved. I’m especially fond of my new friend from Poland who is game to start up a small group with me. Widowed women also need a place in the church and in social circles, but the world in which we used to live was and continues to be so very couples-dominated. I tried to attend some events by myself and felt like I was either being coddled or avoided because people didn’t know what to say or do.

WE WANT YOU TO SEE US AND WELCOME US AND TALK ABOUT WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF OUR HUSBAND. WE WANT YOU TO OFFER TO HELP AND ENCOURAGE US. PLEASE DO NOT BE AFRAID OF US. WE DO NOT WANT HIM TO BE FORGOTTEN AND WE ALSO NEED YOU TO KEEP TRYING TO CONNECT WITH US NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE THINK WE DON’T NEED TO CONNECT WITH YOU.

I definitely am an introvert and often prefer my dogs and hummingbirds to a conversation with a human, but there is no substitute for people that care, and we all need that. Natalie, Elizabeth, Vanessa, Margie, Debbie, Salina, Shelly, Tradona, and anyone else I forgot, God has a plan for us and we must continue to trust in His goodness. I love you all. Every person that hasn’t lost a spouse, hold on to them. Let them have their way. Indulge in their interests and wishes and just soak them up like a sponge. Rejoice in yourself and allow him to let his man weird fly. Don’t wait for tomorrow–say it and do it today.

For some reason, ladies, God allowed our husband to leave us. I believe in His perfect plan and that must mean that He thinks we can do this. I wore myself out the first couple of years trying to prove that I could and now I am resting in His arms and taking naps whenever possible.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Still more story to tell.

My post from about 7 months ago stated that it was my last, but clearly God had different plans. Last summer I couldn’t have imagined the ways He would push me, comfort me, give me new outlets for expression, and use my family’s story to help others. If you are discovering this blog for the first time, “Welcome!” If you want to know more of my backstory, there are a couple of places to start. Our Caring Bridge site at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jeffstroud and a short video at https://youtu.be/Z37Vekv5TOQ will do a fair job of getting you up to speed and I am always willing to share any personal information with anyone that asks. I’ve had the honor to build face to face relationships with several amazing women who also lost their husbands in the past two years and hope that my online words have helped and/or comforted others, as well.

This blog has been about my journey through my husband’s 17 month fight with Glioblastoma Grade IV and life after losing him on September 19, 2015. Since more time has passed, I feel more comfortable sharing information and experiences that were too painful before now. God has also given me confidence and freedom to express myself that was not present in many of my previous posts. I’m pretty much all out there–not because I chose it, but because I can’t remain silent about such significant change, growth, and hope when I’ve realized how much it can help others. God carried me through the most difficult time in my life. Not that it isn’t still a challenge, but I am now on the other side of intense pain and despair that often was unbearable apart from God’s comfort and protection.

Last night was a real milestone for me as I shared the screen with my sweet friend, Cindy, in my first Facebook Live artist talk. I’ve been an artist for many years, but would have never anticipated having one of my paintings chosen as an album cover. You can hear a 16 minute summary of how it happened here: Facebook Live “Jenna”

It is an amazing feeling to see my “Jenna” on the cover of a CD and know that the meaning behind this little hummer completely supports and symbolizes the message of the “Love Manifested” selections. The fact that our daughter is singing on the album makes it even more amazing. It is at moments like this when I wish I could see Jeff’s expression or hear his thoughts. In the two and a half years without him, there have been so many significant events that he couldn’t be present for. We keep his memory alive and absolutely love it when his name comes up in a conversation or something reminds us of him. I’ll share some stories about the cardinals appearances in a post to come–pretty amazing stuff.

I hope this introduces new friends to our “Beauty for Ashes” story and re-connects us with the friends and family that have supported us over the past three and a half+ years. God is continuing to do amazing things in my life and I hope you will be encouraged by the way He has helped me find my new place in life and an inner strength I never knew I had. It’s certainly a daily process where I take one step forward and two steps back (tripping over my dogs as I go). I struggled so much to figure out what my new normal is and have recently realized that I just need to trust God to lead me each day. I never could have planned the “Jenna” project–too many pieces of a puzzle fitting together. It is obvious to me that the Lord who loves me orchestrated the entire thing to give me a new purpose and encourage the talent He gave me for His glory. I’m up for that challenge any day because my trial by fire taught me to trust Him wholeheartedly and His track record is flawless. Hope you’ll join me on this new journey to see what’s next. Thank you all for your love and support!IMG_0275

Last post

 

This is my last blog post because I don’t feel that God has anything left for me to share through written words for now–I’ve been called to connect to real people in a real way every day. As an introvert, writing a blog was a great opportunity to speak my peace without any confrontation and little interactions. I wish I had a penny for every person who told me that they knew exactly how I felt because they had been through divorce or the lost of a parent…. this is my last blog entry because I realize that God just wants me to live now. I understand that people want to feel connected or to try and empathize with you, but nothing comes close to losing the person you shared more than twenty years of your life with. I have had the opportunity to create a new life and I am walking this life one day at a time. Friends and family that continued to love me and our kids, please keep keepin’ on and know how very much we love you!

When Jeff was sick and soon after we lost him, people shared their feelings. But, most everyone has moved on. At first, this made me a little angry but I realize now that God wants all of us to move on–we cannot live in the past; however, for those of us that worry about our lifetime partner being forgotten, this is a challenge. I’ve read quite a few widow books and have repeatedly sought comfort from others, but it hasn’t helped. Once Jeff’s friends began pretending they didn’t know who I was at church, I had to make some difficult choices. Because God knows what I needed and, whether or not we realize it, He gives us a new hope–my church opened a new campus and I went there. Still, life didn’t stop and notice me. One of our pastors shared a message about going first this Sunday and this coincided with me hearing God tell me to step beyond my comfort zone and make friends. Our new campus began a weekly women’s group and I am meeting the sweetest friends and also solidifying precious friendships that never faded. We must release our offenses and step out into the new path God has for us–I don’t really know anyone who has been through what the kids and I have been through, except for the Friend family, and there is no map. We continue to seek seek Godly counsel because there are so many extremely difficult feelings/images/memories to process, but we also continue to delight in the knowledge that Jeff is with the One who loves him most and Jesus has never left our sides.

The people that still care about me and my kids are the people that cared about us before he died. And even those people go on with their lives. Who am I left with? My sweet Mom, my amazing kids, and some precious friends and family that never stopped loving us. And, He loves us so much that He gives us precious new friends to delight in–ask me about our new Karaoke obsession and the joyful times I’ve spent with Austin and Shelby’s friends and our wonderful travels in the past year and a half!

The rest of my life depends on my willingness to surrender to Jesus and become less of me so He becomes greater. I think writing a blog was a preparation for real life where I believe God wants me to talk to real people who can talk back to me and ask me for help and I can ask for help from them. Working on the tattoo I have planned for tomorrow, I’m leaning toward a line from Hillsong United’s “Oceans,” but I haven’t decided which one. God called me out on the waters where my feet certainly failed, but He never let me go and every time I called on His name He showed up. He still does, but I don’t believe I’m meant to hide behind the written word any longer. Lord, make me brave and give me Your strength to stretch my heart to real people that need you. Thank you for your love and support. I’m good because I have Him.

Love people whether or not you understand them.

I didn’t expect strangers to know that I’ve been through the most intense year of my life and am making choices that say, “Life is short. Quit waiting to do things you’ve always wanted to do and enjoy your life,” but I did hope for more.

I have had some really eye-opening experiences in the past few months and I forgive every sweet soul that has rushed to judgment because they didn’t know any better.

Social experiment: dye your hair purple and express yourself with tattoos in a very conservative community. Result: literally, adults gawking in every setting except one which I will address in a minute. One woman took pictures of me at DSW yesterday without as much as an acknowledgment of my eye contact and smile. Standing in line to vote last month: (I have always been the person other people talked to and asked questions–is a pumpkin a vegetable or a fruit? for example) yet, not one question or comment in a 30 minute wait for the first time in many years of standing in line next to other humans.

The exception: people that know and love me, my students, colleagues, neighbors, and my children. I love you all and pray that you will continue to extend grace to others in the measure it has been granted to you.

We do not see things clearly on this earth, which is all the more reason not to evaluate anyone on the basis of their appearance or outward choices that you may not have any basis to understand. We see through a glass darkly, so just love people. Just love people.

What do you leave behind?

When I lost Jeff a year ago, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that he was gone. I have his clothes, his name, his children, but he is gone. We lost another good man today, Mike Friend. As much as I am sure that they are both in heaven together, I also understand that when they are gone, they are gone. No one else knows the things they know or shares the same memories. Because they stood firm for their belief in Jesus, I believe I will see them again.

What am I doing today that will have an eternal impact?  The only legacy we leave behind is how we pour ourselves in to others, how we love them, how we give ourselves to them. Both of these men will forever be in our memories because of what they gave to us here. We love the Friend’s and are eternally tied to them–they are the kind of people you would choose to spend forever with.

When someone leaves us, they take all of their memories, knowledge, and shared experiences with them. You turn to nod or share an expression when something happens,  but they’re not there anymore.

Today was a really hard day. I’m not sure how to process all of this in one week, but here goes: my husband died on Sept. 19, 2015. My precious Sophie died on Sept. 19, 2014. Jeff had a dirt bike accident breaking his leg on Sept. 25, 2011. We spent wonderful time with the Friend family on Sept. 26, 2014 and Mike went to be with Jesus today, Sept. 26, 2016. Within one week, so many huge events. Perhaps it is coincidence, but it also may be God trying to get my attention. “Hello, I’m in control here. Just give your life up to me. I’ve got your back.”  I don’t understand the past seven days, especially when I try to factor in Sept. 19-26 over the past few years. All I know is that it’s bigger than me and I’m so thankful that God will continue to reveal Himself to me and will love me whether or not I have the capacity to understand.

How is it that we stood with the Friend family on Sept. 26, 2014 as Salina proclaimed her firm belief in God’s power to heal her husband, yet we lost him exactly two years later? I can only stand firm on 1 Peter 5:10–God chose not to restore them here, but I’m so sure they are both fully healed and restored today in heaven. Thank you, Jesus.