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

 

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

Looking back

This week I read 294 printed pages of Caring Bridge posts (https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jeffstroud) and comments from May 2014 through March 2016 to help me find a starting point for this blog. The outpouring of love, encouragement, and hope from friends and family is still amazing to try and absorb and I’m so thankful to have the chronology of events, photos, and God’s word all in one place because it’s too overwhelming to piece it all together in my own mind.

The first few entries report facts about Jeff’s condition and thank all of the angels God sent to help us, but something interesting happens in later posts. It’s not that God hadn’t done anything amazing before, it’s just that as I grew closer and closer to Him, He gave me words to share and the understanding that I was supposed to use this journey to honor Him. Each day something unexpected, challenging, or inconceivable happened and I turned to God for help. Many days I took the dogs on long walks and cried out, “Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jesus.” over and over; I remained on my feet only because the Lord was holding me up.

Call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.  Psalm 50:15

This blog will be my words, my heart, and the revelation from God that He leads me to share with you. I can’t explain this all in one introductory post, but it’s big stuff (and some little stuff, too). Until the end when Jeff could no longer read or comprehend what I wrote, I asked him to approve each entry before I submitted it. He asked me to change things on two occasions: One time I said “CRAP!  CRAP! CRAP!” and another when I said I wanted to kill him because he was making me crazy. No editor here except the Holy Spirit and I am trusting that His filters will allow the level of honesty and transparency I desire combined with a message that I pray will always point to Jesus.

I will be working on this site and praying about what God wants me to share over the next few days. There’s no specific plan or schedule, but I would love for you to join me on this new adventure.

Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5