February, A Significant Month

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February has been a special month on my calendar ever since I met Pam.  Her birthday is February 21.  As February arrived this year I was taken back to February 2013.  That month began with Pam fully engaged in work and managing her pain with pretty strong medicine but on the surface everything was running pretty much as normal.  It is interesting, comforting and, not surprisingly, sad for me to look back at my communication with Pam at that time by reading through text conversations and old emails.  It is like stepping back in time.  It also reminds me that we had no idea at the beginning of February how near she was to the end.  The texts at the beginning of the month were more about work appointments and real estate logistics.  As the month went along the interactions gradually changed.  They became less about work, although, she was still helping me with work up until the last text just hours before she left.

I can say honestly that I have never struggled with the “why” question and neither did Pam.  Looking back at the way she passed, it ended so fast, it was all such a blur.  My best friend, the most significant human relationship of my life, my sweetheart was gone.  In the aftermath, I was left with a different question.  What?  Not what did she die from but rather, “What just happened?”  From the time we learned that she was sick we spent all of our time and energy trying to determine if there was any way to save her life and seeking out the best treatments to prolong her time here and provide her with as much relief from the pain as possible.  And then at 9:00 that Sunday morning it was over.  Shocking.  It was just shocking.  There I sat looking at her knowing it was over.  “What just happened?”  More importantly, “What happens now?”  Those are the questions I have been wrestling with since that day.

The purpose of this blog is to share with you my experience of learning to live after devastating loss.  I don’t have an outline and the story isn’t finished yet.  Each month is an entry from the midst of the storm.  So I am just chronicling the journey so you can walk with me as I experience the faithfulness of Jesus, the truth of God’s Word and the comfort of God’s Spirit.  More than anything Pam and I want everyone to know Jesus.  When people say things like, “I don’t know how I would get through this without my faith”, you may have thought it was just a cliché.  I am detailing the struggles, hurt, pain as well as the peace, calm and healing not because it makes me feel better or because I like to talk about myself.  As hard as it is, this is an opportunity to reveal in a real way what a relationship with the creator God of the universe looks like.  Not that I’m perfect but that He is.

So why after two years are these memories all filling my mind?  Why haven’t I moved on?  There has been plenty of time to heal and put things to rest, right?  We are so busy in our lives that when we encounter pain or sorrow we distract, deny and medicate to try to get relief.  What I am here to say is don’t do that.  It is in the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death that I have experienced the true ministry of God and closeness with Jesus unlike any other time in my life.  I want to follow Him out of the darkness.  When I refer to the darkness I am talking about the question “What now?”  The rest of my life without Pam seems really dark.  He will lead me where He wants me to go and I have no desire to run ahead.  He gave Pam to me in the first place, He can be trusted.  I am still mourning, still missing Pam every day in countless ways.  She truly was ALL THAT.  And yet, even after losing her, I am content.  I am content in Jesus and His plan.  He is enough, I don’t need anything else.

Counting It All Joy

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This picture was taken at a birthday party thrown for Pam just two weeks before she passed. We had no idea the end was so near. At that point she was still talking about business and handling details. It’s still shocking to look back at how fast the end came. Last month I wrote about how hard it still is, the sadness and disappointment, the longing for her companionship. Many of those closest to me reached out privately with concerns and wondering if there are some practical things I can do to avoid some of the pain. I understand the desire to see those we love get relief from pain after all, I am a guy and guys want to fix things. One practical thought might be to take all over Pam’s stuff out of my closet so I don’t have that daily visual reminder of her absence. What I have come to learn is that what I need is not a palliative solution for the sorrow but to follow God’s plan explained in James 1:2-4

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the
testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you
may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Rather than focusing on the aching of my heart, the focus has to be God’s enduring faithfulness to walk through the trial with me, never leaving me alone. Remember Psalm 23

1. The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
2. He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3. He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
4. Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.
5. You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6. Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.

I am still not completely comfortable talking about the spiritual benefits from this tragedy. The reality, though, is that James 1 is true. There are aspects of maturity/completeness that can only be obtained through adversity. The joy that James speaks of is obviously not a joy about trial. Trials are not joyous; they are awful, difficult and just plain stinky. It is ludicrous to think you should be joyful for such agony, “Yeah, my beautiful wife and best friend has cancer!” You should, however, be thankful for what happens when you find yourself in a trial. The first thing that both Pam and I experienced was a comforting from the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are His children.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children

The next blessing is related to the first, the affirming of our faith by the endurance produced by the trial that is testing our faith. The first blessing was an active ministry of the Holy Spirit moving in and calming our spirits, the second was confirmation of our faith as the result of the trial testing our faith and the result was endurance. You have known people that claim to have faith and yet when trials come on them they crumble and their faith disappears. I can look at the endurance I have seen in my life as a blessing that is the result of my faith in Christ. Finally, the benefit that results from enduring this trial with God is a more complete faith, stronger, deeper and lacking nothing.
Because of this, my focus is not to relieve the pain. My focus is on enduring the trial with God ever present with me secure in the promise that the trial is going to produce a more mature faith in me that is complete, lacking nothing.
I am not through this trial yet but I will tell you that the endurance that has been produced as a result of this testing to this point has brought me to a closer deeper relationship with God than I have ever known and as Pam would say, “that’s sweet”.

I count it all joy that God does not leave us alone in our time of need.
I count it all joy that God can understand fully what I am experiencing.
I count it all joy that the result of this trail is a more Christ-like faith
I count it all joy that my sweetheart is perfectly complete, lacking nothing and I will see her again.

Dancing With Depression

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I really didn’t want to write the blog this month.  I just thought it would be much the same and quite honestly, whiny.  But the reality is that this series of posts exists to document the most difficult experience of my life for the purpose of exposing God’s love and faithfulness.  The dilemma is that I can explain what I am going through but I can’t convey, in a full sense, what I am going through.  It’s like Houston said after going through basic training for the National Guard, “My buddy told me all about his experience going through basic but I didn’t know until I went through it”.

Now, most of you know me and know that I can talk with the best of them   but this   this I can’t adequately explain, I can only describe what is happening.  I hope that makes sense.

The last few weeks have been the hardest since the days following the funeral.  Most people think it’s because of the holidays.  That does play a role for sure but on a more surface level.  The “missing her” and the sadness that accompanies the various ways that plays out in real life, not having her advice, encouragement, affirmation, humor, help, just her presence in the routine moments of life like this picture shows.  I see those as more surface level grieving.  Not that they aren’t excruciatingly painful to the point of debilitating at times.  I want to be clear that I am not minimizing the pain and deep sorrow associated with these aspects of my grief.  These are the struggles that are largely experientially based.  These are the struggles that get the most attention and are the easiest to talk about.  I miss her voice so I listen to a recording.  I miss her smell so I draw a bath with her favorite bubble bath.  I miss her touch so I will feel the fabric of her bathrobe that still hangs in our closet.  NO EHLERS I don’t wear it, I know that is what you were thinking!

If these were the only challenges associated with grief this would still be the hardest time of my life by far.  But I am learning there is a much deeper, soulful confrontation going on.

SIDEBAR: The reason you keep reading your Bible even though you have read the same passages over and over again is that while it doesn’t change, you and your life do.

There are several passages that I have read, preached on and memorized over the years that have impacted me in a significantly more powerful and different way during the last 2 years than ever before.  Here are a few.

Colossians 3:3,4 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Galatians 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

John 12:23-26 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Philippians 18b-21 Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.[d] 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

For Pam, Christ was certainly exalted in her death.  I have never known anyone who was as young and full of life as she was, accept God’s will and set out to glorify Him through the trial of her disease and death.  She praised Him in her words, her life and her testimony of faith.  When she would tell me that she has the easier side of this situation, she truly believed it.

The other part of that verse has been prying like a crowbar trying to loosen the grip I have on my life, what I want, where I want to go, what I want to accomplish.  I have accepted His will to take Pam home.  Now I wrestle with the question, is there anything in my life that I hold with a closed fist.  Is there anything that if God took, my faith would crumble.  What if I lost my rugged good looks(joke) in a terrible accident, or my superior intellect(doesn’t exist) was robbed by disease, what if I woke up tomorrow and my identity was stolen leaving me destitute or worst of all what if something happened to my kids.

There is a song by NeedToBreath called Multiplied with the refrain;

God of mercy sweet love of mine I have surrendered to Your design
May this offering stretch across the skies
And these Halleluiahs be multiplied

The first time I heard this song I was struck by those words

God of mercy sweet love of mine I have surrendered to Your design (My life without Pam)
May this offering (My life lived praising and serving You) stretch across the skies (Be seen by everyone) And these Halleluiahs (The praise I point to You) be multiplied (By everyone who witnesses Your faithfulness to me)

So you ask, “Where’s the depression?”  The answer comes from Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

There is a spiritual battle that speaks lies.  Lies like, “you’re life is over, just give up”, “you’re a fraud or you would be over this by now”, “you did something to cause this to happen”.  To be truthful, I had really enjoyed the benefit of Pam’s constant encouragement to battle against the lies throughout our time together.  Now that she is gone I realize that I could have and should have turned directly to God’s word to battle with truth instead of relying so heavily on her but to be fair to me, she was speaking biblical truth so…

The other aspect is the reality that I am so unbelievably blessed.  That makes me feel guilty that I could be so blessed and yet so sad.  What a loser I am.

Finally, there is a heavy sadness that seems to just show up unrelated to what I am doing or thinking about.  Are you getting a glimpse of how complex, confusing and overwhelming this journey is?  Really, I haven’t even begun to fully explain what it is like.  Sometimes I just shake my head.

I don’t want to wallow in self-pity but I am learning what an intentional battle this is.  It is hard, really hard.  I miss her so much, all the time and think about her constantly without trying, it just happens.  The good news is, it comes in battles and each battle can be won.  I walk each day, each hour with God in the strength of His truth and the truth will always set you free.

Please do not pity or feel sorry for me.  God is good, God is faithful and God has this!

 

The Guilt of Grief

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It has been 20 months since Pam flashed that big smile, said “I love you honey!” and drew her last breath. There isn’t an hour that goes by that I’m not reminded of her absence.  There isn’t an hour that goes by that I don’t have the thought, “I can’t believe she is really not here”.  I’m reminded of her absence through just everyday events.  Seeing pregnancy pictures of my niece Rhonda on Facebook reminds me of how much Pam loved babies.

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This weekend Aimee shared a new song with me that had a prominent drum part and Pam loved, loved, loved hearing Houston play his drums. When she would hear him start to play in the basement she would immediately start dancing to the beat.  So when this song started I could see Pam with a huge smile, clapping her hands and moving to the music.  Listen to a little of the link below and envision Pam just thoroughly getting into it.

 

Unspoken – Start A Fire

 

Sometimes the events that remind me about Pam are funny.  You may not know this about me but… I can be an aggressive driver I KNOW, I KNOW it’s not good.  There is just something deep in my DNA, there always has been.  There is a racecar driver in there.  It really reveals itself when there is an injustice on the road, like when there is a long line of traffic entering a work zone and someone thinks they can drive past everyone who is waiting in line and skip to the front.  When I get to the front of that line and the budger tries to squeeze in, well let’s just say it doesn’t happen.  Pam would always get on me and say “THOMAS” or “Seriously” or just “Why?” with both eyebrows raised.  I am so conditioned to her 25 years of correction that I find myself verbally defending my actions to her even though she’s not here.

The cumulative effect of all those constant reminders produces a deepening sadness. The loss of a relationship so amazing in every respect leaves a void that could sap the happiness out of every good experience yet to come.

Therein lies the guilt.

How do I rightly mourn? I know Jesus mourned, I even memorized the verse, John 11:35, look it up.  God made us as relational beings.  We were created to love and to be loved.  Especially the marriage bond, it is unique among all other human relationships.  The experience of fully giving to each other, unconditionally loving, supporting, trusting and enjoying each other with the expressed blessing of God is a gift like none other.  This is the pinnacle of human relationships.  God designed it (one man and one woman), God blessed it and He blessed me with an uncommonly special one.  I knew, as did everyone that knew us, that I was quite possibly the most blessed man on the face of the earth to have Pam for my wife.  People would look at her, then look at me, then look back at her with a confused look as if to say, “Why is such a beautiful woman as you with this schmo?”  After I learned to deal with the blow to my ego of such a raw honest insult, I really started to enjoy the humor in the predictability of people’s consistent response.

It doesn’t end there. God blessed me with Pam, but His blessings go so far beyond just that.  He blessed me to be born in the USA to parents that loved and cared for me and my brothers.  God allowed me to be born into a family that loves Him and made it a priority to take me to church and exposed me to the Gospel.  God opened my eyes to my sin and my need of a savior at a young age.  God has blessed me with great friends throughout every stage of my life.  God has also blessed me with a second family, Pam’s.  The closeness I enjoy with the Graber family is so unusual for an in-law relationship, yet, it seems natural, it seems so right.

You can see that my claims of being a blessed man are not empty platitudes. I am demonstrably blessed at every turn.  So this is what I have learned so far about feeling guilty for mourning so deeply, even after so much time has passed.

God created me in His image (Genesis 1). God loves at an intensity that I can’t begin to understand (Romans 5:8).  The depth of my pain and sorrow doesn’t begin to compare to what He has experienced (Matthew 27).

The depth of the pain and hurt that I struggle with is recognition of the extreme generosity God lavished on me by blessing me with Pam. My mourning is not bitterness at the injustice of God’s arbitrary cruelty, no not even a little bit, not for a second.  If anger and bitterness were the source of my grief then a sense of guilt and shame would be appropriate.  The reality is that God is good all the time and continues to shower unmerited favor on me for which I will never be able to repay Him.

God grieves over many things. There is a worship song that has the phrase, “break my heart for what breaks yours”.  Knowing now what a truly broken heart feels like, that is almost impossible to sing.  Not simply because I understand grief but by understanding the depth of my sorrow and realizing that it pales in comparison to His, it is unimaginable, it is beyond our ability to conceive the power of His grief.  In a way, it is a naive arrogance to even utter such a thing.

No, I don’t feel guilty anymore. I appreciate so much more, the extravagant love God has shown to me and continues to show to me.  I demonstrate my appreciation and love for Him through my struggles.  I acknowledge that His gifts are great, so much so that once enjoyed, it is difficult to live with out them.  God is awesome and I want everyone to know it.  Pam wanted everyone to know Him.  There is nothing in this life to compare to Him, not money, not achievement, not fame, not even a rocking, God-centered marriage.  All of these will end.  A relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ will never end.  My marriage to Pam was as good as it gets in this life but it was just a small taste of what’s to come (Psalms 16).

Perspective On These Posts

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So I have been writing this blog for 19 months now. 19 months of marking time.  What’s the point?  Why keep writing?  Is it therapeutic?  Does it make me feel better?  Honestly…no.  What makes me feel better is the ever deepening walk I have with God.  This blog is a chronicle of that process.  God did not turn my world upside down to torture me, He allowed this to happen for His reasons and I don’t know what those reasons are and I don’t need to know.  Job put it well in the first chapter of the book that bears his name –

“18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,

19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship

21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.[c] The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Pam chose Proverbs 3:5-6 as the theme verse for this blog to declare her dependence on God’s trustworthy leadership in her life. She always had an unflinching trust in God’s providential care.  Providential care?  Providential care?  Seems ironic given the tragic, premature end to her beautiful life.  You may say that the fact of her passing proves that God can’t be trusted, He is not sovereign or He surely would have healed Pam or worse yet, He is cruel.

That is a logical conclusion when we focus on our happiness, pleasure and dreams instead of orienting our life’s devotion around God and His Word. The reason any of us draws breath is for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

Job 2:

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

God is good all the time and God can be trusted with everything! It is all about God and not us!  Pam is, and always has been, God’s. He blessed me by sharing her with me for 25 years.  He gave me 3 incredible children through her.

Everything I have said up to this point is truth.  That doesn’t mean it is easy, enjoyable or fun as we see from the responses of both Job and Jesus to hardship. It is painful beyond human ability to explain.

Walking step by step through this level of hurt and pain brings more glory to God than all of the words the mouth can speak. There is an ever present darkness bidding me to give up.  The darkness is a draw to self-absorbed pity.  This darkness is, at its root, a call to lament the theft of an assumed entitlement to a happy life where God gives me what I want, what I deserve.  Those who preach that God wants your life to be happy and blessed, that God is happiest when you are happy are preaching lies.  The truth is that God desires that your life bring Him glory whether in ease or struggle.  It is all about Him, not you and your comfort and pleasure.

Knowing the truth does not guarantee that I will choose correctly. As I have said in the past, the depth of the pain, sadness and hurt is reflective of the enormity of God’s blessing.  I wouldn’t now have pain if God had not first blessed me beyond measure with Pam.  If the blessing hadn’t been so amazing, the struggle with the loss wouldn’t be as hard.

So how are you doing Tom? You can see that the answer is complicated.  Lately her absence has been magnified.  Houston shipping to basic training, Aimee’s volleyball games without her cheering voice, moving Molli to Illinois and getting her set up in her apartment, Houston graduating from basic training, the first Ankeny church service in our new building, etc.  In other words, life.  Life without my best friend, confidant, partner…you know the list.  Every moment that the darkness closes in and I choose to push back through the strength God provides, brings glory to my Heavenly Father.  That is why I continue to write.  God allowed this in my life for His reasons and I am sharing the experience with you to make sure He can use this trial for His glory.

Pam The Encourager

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I find myself in an antithetical dichotomy of disbelief (for those who know me well you will see the use of those words for what it was intended, a serious mockery of myself).  None the less… it is completely true and sadly accurate.  In the same instant I can’t believe Pam has been gone for a year and a half, it seems like she was here filling my days with laughter and security AND it also seems like it has been forever since I felt the warmth of her affectionate embrace or heard her kind words of loving strength.  18 months.  When she was here, I didn’t think there was any way I could live 18 minutes in a world without her and yet, here I am.

Lately my mind has thought often of what an encourager Pam was to everyone.  I was blessed to receive the lion’s share of her cheerleading.  She would constantly tell me that I was the most handsome man in the world, that I was the best preacher she had ever heard, that I was really smart… and on occasion she would even encourage me with the truth like, God knows what we are going through and we can trust Him or, in spite of how you feel right now, you did the right thing and God is pleased and I respect you more than ever and am so thankful that God gave you to be my man.

Recently I discovered some old letters from when we were dating and when we were first married.  Reading her constant encouragement to me in those letters made me realize that I must have been much more pathetic than I remember.  I must have been a pretty needy little guy because each letter was full of superlatives and hyperbole.  In reality, those letters said much more about Pam than me.  She was so full of the love of God, it flowed out of her in abundance to all who knew her, even to those who mistreated and hurt her deeply.  She still delivered God’s love to them; I saw it over and over again.

It is the absence of that encouragement and support that has made the last few months that much more of a reminder that she is gone.  There have been many changes, Houston is gone to basic training, Molli is in Illinois for her internship, changes at work, some hard changes.  With Pam’s counsel and encouragement we plowed through this life.  Now, alone, it is different.  Different because even though she is gone, her legacy remains in all who knew her.  Different because even though she is gone, God hasn’t moved.  My dependence on God’s instruction to direct my paths has never been stronger.

I will never forget those last days we had together.  We would talk at length about God’s plan.  We knew that her passing was in God’s plan.  We didn’t know why it was in God’s plan.  Neither of us struggled with not knowing why because we trust Him completely.  God is God and there is no one like Him.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  He created all that was, all that is and all that ever will be.  He sustains all things.  He created Pam and He created Tom and He blessed us by bringing us together for 25 years.  He gave us 3 great children and wonderful supporting families.  God brought into our lives the kind of deep meaningful, familial friendships that most people live their entire life hoping for.  God is good!  God is great!  So when it was evident that God was going to call Pam home, the response was a natural one, “OK”.  God you want to call Pam home now, “OK”.

Today life isn’t as easy or as fun as it was with Pam here but life is good because God is good.  I think every day, “what is Pam doing right now?”  She is where she was created to be, in the presence of her Maker.  It encourages me to think how happy she is.  It encourages me to know that she doesn’t have to struggle with the garbage she had to deal with in this life.  It encourages me to know that she is with Jesus whom she loved.

Pam encouraged me every minute we shared together.  She is still encouraging me.  I miss her more completely than words could begin to convey, at least words written by me.  In humility I have to admit as excruciating as the pain I feel at the loss of my sweetheart, I can’t begin to understand the pain that Jesus felt and God Himself felt as they were separated.  Jesus left the presence of the Father to come to this earth and live a fully human life as God and to experience life as we do with all of its pain, temptations and sorrow and to be beaten, mocked, betrayed and ultimately killed by crucifixion.  But all of that, as bad as it was, wasn’t as bad as what followed.  Jesus took on Himself the sins of all mankind while hanging on the cross and because of that sin, in some unexplainable way, God the Father and God the Son were separated.  That is an anguish that I can’t begin to understand.  Pam would want to encourage you with these words, turn your life over to Jesus and receive His free gift of eternal life.

If this all sounds a little preachy, it is Pam’s final encouragement to you.  When we were talking about her funeral Pam was clear, she told me I had to preach it and the good news of Jesus had to go out loud and clear.  Pam continues to encourage us all.

How did she encourage you?

The Blessings Continue

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The 17+ months since Pam has been gone have been challenging.  Dealing with the pain and sadness seems, at times, impossible.  The natural desire is to plead with God to remove the hardship.  The reality that God has revealed to me through His word and through His Spirit is that He is with me in the grief.  Just as Paul said in II Timothy from prison when everyone abandoned him and he was about to be executed, “the Lord stood with me”.  God has helped me see that the time I shared with Pam was an extravagant gift with which He, for reasons all His own, blessed me.  Money can’t buy what He gave to me, I couldn’t create what He gave to me, it is humbling that He loved me enough to do that for me and I will shout my gratitude to the world for the rest of my days.  God is great and greatly to be praised!!!!

 

 

 

The Hits Keep Coming

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This picture was taken 2 weeks ago on the morning Houston shipped to basic training.  Every day I wonder what he is doing, what is he experiencing, how is he being treated?  It marks another milestone.  Houston will never live in my house again.  He will stay here from time to time but when he gets home from training he will go off to college.  Pam’s niece Natalie got married a few days later and I was privileged to say a few words.  Half of those words were direct quotes from emails Pam had sent to Natalie when Natalie was in Peru. The wedding was outdoors at the Salisbury house and both of my daughters were bridesmaids and they looked stunning.

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At the end of next week Molli is moving to Illinois to start an internship at an ethanol plant.  She will be there until Christmas.  Aimee, my youngest daughter, is now driving herself to school as she starts her sophomore year at Ballard.  On the work front, business is really good.  Earlier this summer I switched to a different real estate company.  I also joined the investment group that is opening a new office in Ankeny.  It is an exciting time as I am hiring staff, building a team and creating a brand.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.

There are days, actually almost every day, that the thought comes into my head that I can’t believe she’s not here.  It’s been 17 months and she is in my thoughts and heart continually.  My love for her has only grown.  My appreciation and thankfulness to God for His gift of Pam to me for 25 years has strengthened my relationship with Him.  Really, the gift goes far beyond 25 years.  All of the events that I mentioned at the beginning, she was there.  She influences every decision I make, every piece of advice I give, every business decision I make.  I hear her voice of affirmation when I ink a contract and instruction when I wrestle with a decision.  I hear her laughter and joy at Natalie’s wedding and feel her tears of concern and pride as her baby boy leaves for basic training.  Even though she is not here physically, she is very much here and making a difference.

What an extravagant gift God gave to me in Pam.  She was the strongest person I have ever known.  She was fearless, kind, compassionate, loving, funny, fun, smart, hardworking, humble and on and on the list could go.  And for good measure she was stunningly beautiful.  Every place we would go, other women would comment on here beauty.  For a time she couldn’t wear her wedding ring because it didn’t fit and men would approach her to ask if she was single.  She was extraordinarily gorgeous.

Pam’s absence has left a huge hole in my life but Pam is also still a large part of my life.  Losing Pam has revealed in a very tangible way just how generous God has been to me.  And He continues to be.  All of the life events that have happen in the last few months have attended a sadness that I don’t have my sweetheart to share them with me but at the same time, her voice is very much here and the God that blessed me with her is closer to me than ever.  God is good all the time!  He can be trusted.

Proverbs 3:5,6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[

16 Months and Counting

The Butler's _ Fall 2012 (105 of 114)

 

This picture reminds me of just how sweet our love was, how I adored her and she me. It causes me to really think back and consider all of the subtleties that comprised that hug. How she hugged so tight and said, “I love you so much” or “you are the most handsome man in the world”.  I remember that she was in a lot of pain but at the same time was so happy to get these pictures taken.  I remember how she smelled and what it felt like to hold her.  It has been a long time since I looked deeply into her eyes or even thought about that wonderful part of our communication.  There was so much said without words as we just gazed into each other’s eyes.  She would look up at me and I would look down at her almost looking straight through her.   The product of 25 years of intentional relationship building through the fiery crucible of life was a closeness that most people will never experience.  I spent my entire adult life counting the number of years Pam and I were married and celebrating each anniversary.  Every year brought a deeper love and sweeter communication.  I continue to count today, only this time I am counting the time since Pam left.  Instead of celebrating new levels of intimacy I am marking the passing of time that robs me of the details of my memories of her.  She gets further and further away from me with every month that passes.  The full reality of my life without her becomes clearer with every day.  So I have a decision to make.  I want to feel sorry for myself and fight the loss and point to what everyone else has that I don’t.  I would never say these things but deep down inside it is easy to think; why me?  It isn’t fair!  The truth is that the magnitude and difficulty of my loss is in direct correlation to the generosity of God’s perfect gift to me in Pam.  God blessed me with the perfect mate for me in Pam.  Now what?  She’s gone.  Yes, she’s gone, but the God that created her for me isn’t.  The rest of my life may be difficult, alone and less fun, but, this life is not the end.  God has not promised me my best life now.  He may want me to walk a path like Jesus or Paul.  My focus is one of thankfulness for God’s unbelievable blessings to me and His never failing faithfulness.  In the darkest times of despair, He is there.  In the frustration of disappointment and hopelessness He is there.  Instead of focusing on the loss, I focus on the reality of what is store for me.  I will live with Him, I will reign with Him, forever.  I will see Him as he is.  Oh and I will see my sweetheart again.  I spent a few hours last night watching home movies.  She was so beautiful, caring, giving and fun.  She was almost too good to be true and God made her for me.  He must really love me.  I can’t wait to be with Him.  As I uncover new things that remind me of her like this morning when I lifted up the treadmill and there were her running shoes, this week finding another page of detailed notes.  There are so many reminders of her every day that it would be easy to focus on the loss.  But then I am reminded of how she handled life with such common sense, such pragmatism.  She didn’t even understand going to the cemetery because nobody is there.  I can hear her voice saying, “what are you sad about?  We are going to be together with Jesus forever”,  “Our separation is just for a short period of time”, “focus on the big picture!”  When I start dwelling on the bad and feeling sorry for myself her voice is loud and clear, “Seriously Thomas!”  To which I reply, “Yes, seriously, it has been even more difficult this last month to do life without you”.  That’s just real.  What is equally as real is that if I focus on the fact that Jesus is with me step by step I am encouraged because He never leaves me to grieve alone and  He has my future secure, a future with Him and with Pam.  That is something to look forward to.  I can’t wait to hug her again but until that day, Jesus is more than enough for today, He is the joy of my life.

Seasons

Ozark Vacation 2012 132

Pam’s favorite season was definitely summer time.  Whenever she would feel the warmth of the sun on her skin she would instantly smile.  It didn’t matter what she might be dealing with, what problems may be challenging her, that touch of light would immediately transport her to her happy place.  This picture epitomizes the “Momma Like” joy of her favorite spot under the summer sun.  But alas, summer is but a season.

When I was a child, time seemed to crawl.  The school year took forever to end.  Life seemed very constant, steady and stable.  The way it has been is the way it will always be.  Or so it seemed.  Even though we moved and circumstances evolved, there was sameness within the comfort of my family.  It was all that I had ever known.  What I know now is, that was a season.

The next season was my college years.  In many ways, it was an exciting extension of the first season.  Those years composed a season of discovery, growth and new experiences.  The new friends, burgeoning freedom and independence as well as a maturing personal identity exhilarated me.  Life was getting better and better.  What I didn’t know then was that the best was yet to come.

28

It was the fall of 1987, the beginning of a new season in my life.  It all started when I saw this girl for the first time.

All I could say was WOW.  She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and she spoke to me.  This season started off like a dream that was too good to possibly be real.  You couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.  Every season surpassed the previous.  I thought it would always be that way.  It wouldn’t.  This season began with unbelievable excitement, expanded to deep joy as we were blessed with three children, wonderful friends and close family.  For 25 years this season was a rich time of blessing, love and pure sweetness.

And then shock.

For the first time I was faced with a season that I did not want.  Instead of excitement, anticipation and wonder there was a much darker path in front of me.  This unfamiliar path was paved with fear, uncertainty, loneliness, intense sadness, overwhelming responsibility, dread, darkness, helplessness and hopelessness.

A season of brokenness.

A broken relationship – Pam was no longer my wife

A broken heart – Completely shattered emotional wellbeing

A broken life – Pam & I were one flesh, she was a large part of who I was, now ripped apart

The strange truth is that even though I hate this season of pain, I don’t want to move past it to a place of happiness again.  The reason for this reluctance isn’t that I enjoy sorrow but rather it is the place that I feel closest to Pam.  I don’t want to get over the loss of her.  I don’t want to move on.  It is hard to allow myself to enjoy life, laugh and smile because it feels like closing the Pam season.  I don’t want to do that.  The reality is, that season ended March 3, 2013 at about 9:00AM.  Now she is ecstatic in the presence of Jesus her savior and God the Father.  I haven’t shed a tear for her since she left, only tears of pain for myself and my family.

In the midst of the confusion and conflagration raging in my heart, soul and mind God speaks.  In April I lost a good friend, Keith Bell.  Keith was 92 and lived a wonderful God centered life.  Through the years he taught me so many lessons as I observed his life.  No lesson was more important than the last one.  As his health failed toward the end, he was moved into a care facility and out of his house.  When asked if he was sad to leave the farm that he had worked since he came home from WWII, he said with a smile, “That chapter is over and I’m happy to be here now”.  What a genuine expression of deep faith and gratefulness toward God for His generous blessing.  That was an echo of the words Pam spoke in the video I posted in April, Pam said, “This 25 years we’ve had were God’s plan and that’s it and it was sweet”.

God used these words to open my eyes.  Two of the people I respected the most in this life said, this is God’s plan and I accept it.  I agree, clearly this is God’s plan and I accept it.

What does the next season look like?  Great question!  Whatever it is going to be, it is going to be God’s gift.  I can honestly say that even though I am still in the throes of grief over the loss of my sweetheart, I am fully surrendered to God’s plan and willing to walk with Him.  I am beyond grateful to God for his extravagant generosity toward me.

4 at Grad

Thank you God for blessing us with Pam and for what she is experiencing today.  Thank you for creating her uniquely the way You did.  Thank you for loving her.  Thank you for bringing her into her final season in your presence!