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