A Truly Good Wife

img20150813_19113542Proverbs 31:10-12 says, “A truly good wife is the most precious treasure a man can find!  Her husband depends on her, and she never lets him down.  She is good to him every day of her life.”  27 years ago today Pam became my wife.  She was in every respect the most precious treasure I will ever have.  I depended on her and she never let me down.  She was more than good to me everyday day she was my wife.  The last words to cross her lips were, “I love you, Honey”.  I loved Pam more and more each day.  Not only did I love her with every fiber of my being, I respected her more than anyone I know and I trusted her completely.  Exodus 20 instructs men not to covet your neighbor’s wife, I can honestly say I never have, not once.  I was always so happy and proud to be Pam’s husband.  I wanted everyone to know she was my wife.  I miss her every minute of every day while at the same time, I’m thankful to God that she is experiencing pure joy.  As hard as it is, today I celebrate the years we had together and I wanted to share a few pictures with you.  This was the happiest day of my life and yet I had no idea of the enormity of the blessing God gave to me that day.  I hope these pictures bring a smile to your face and happy memories of Pam to your mind. 

img20150813_19162460 img20150813_19155237 img20150813_19152409 img20150813_19151434 img20150813_19150662 img20150813_19145894 img20150813_19145114 img20150813_19144342 img20150813_19143573 img20150813_19142812 img20150813_19141035 img20150813_19123737img20150813_19101463

Dichotomous Thomas

The Butlers  Fall 2012 (102 of 114)

Dichotomous = exhibiting or characterized by dichotomy.

Dichotomy = a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities or ideas.

 

Yes, I am aware that it rhymes with hippopotamus. It was just the word that best describes my life over the last month. As I have said before, the reason for writing this blog is to chronicle this new experience called grief that I am living. Up to the day that Pam died, I had never known what grief was. For sure there had been hurt, pain, sadness and disappointment…but not grief. This is totally uncharted territory for me. That is why I am continually caught off guard by each twist and turn of this journey. This past month has been particularly eventful, filled with true happiness that produced crushing sorrow, hence the dichotomy.  I will highlight two events that stand out as stark examples of this contradiction.

 

   The Butlers  Fall 2012 (79 of 114)AIT Grad

First was Houston’s graduation from AIT (Advanced Individual Training). Houston entered the Army National Guard last summer, graduated from Basic Training in October and went straight to AIT. Words can’t express how proud I am of all that Houston has accomplished including earning the second highest GPA in his class. Houston is developing into the man Pam and I hoped that he would. The graduation ceremony was the point at which the dichotomy appeared. I was so happy to celebrate Houston. Real happiness. As happy as I was, there was a nagging sense that Houston is only getting a small shadow of the party he would have received had his mom been there. She had a special way to encourage, challenge and affirm her son in a way nobody else could. She would have brought a level of enthusiasm to his graduation that wasn’t there. She would have hugged him around the neck until he begged her to stop. She would not have been able to prevent the tears of joy from running down her face and communicating to Houston her heart of love for him. The reality of her absence was crushing.

Proud happy papa – crushing sadness, same event = the dichotomy.

 

 

img20130306_18521005 IMG_1434

The second event was a round of golf. Pam was my favorite golf partner and honestly better than me. She had a sweet, fluid swing and loved the game. Truth be told, she was even known to do cartwheels on greens after a made putt. This month I had the opportunity to play the Naples National course with a group of guys that Pam and I were in connection group with 15 years ago. On top of that, I had a caddy. I’ve never had a caddy before and Paul, my caddy was amazing. He gave strategic advice, perfectly read every green and gave me helpful hints that actually helped. Most importantly, we laughed. I mean to tell you I can’t remember that last time I had as much fun as I did that afternoon with Paul. The round took FOREVER to play and ended too soon. It was an incredible day, beautiful weather, great friends, world class course and laughs all day. What a treat. So where is the dichotomy here? Well…I could barely speak a good portion of the afternoon. My heart was in my throat and tears in my eyes. It seemed the more fun I was having, the more laughs, the more unexplained great shots…the higher the high produced an equal and opposite emotion. I was not sitting around thinking about Pam, it was an involuntary emotional reaction almost as if to say, “It would be more fun with Pam”. The truth is that the most fun experiences of my life were fun because I shared them with Pam.

Great fun with close friends – palpable loneliness, same event = the dichotomy.

 

So what’s the point? The point is that even after 2 years, it’s really hard. Yet God is faithful. Most people who love me want this struggle to pass from me because they hate to see me hurting. I get that. The truth is that God is teaching me more about Himself now than at any point in my life. The pain is crushing but I will not be crushed. Not because of my strength but because of God’s faithfulness. He promised in I Corinthians 10 that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.”

 

The struggle with grief is so hard because the gift of my relationship with Pam was so huge. God blessed me in an incredible way with Pam and is blessing me today in countless ways. When I think about how hard my grief is, I am reminded that His grief was so much harder. Jesus was betrayed by his own, falsely accused and separated from God the Father as He took on the sins of the world. Jesus completely understands what I’m going through and He cares. Please don’t feel sorry for me. God is really doing a work in my life and He can be trusted.

I remember like it was yesterday Pam and I pleading with God the same prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden, “If it be possible allow this cup to pass from Me, Yet not as I will, but as You will.”  The reason for this blog is to get the word out that God is good and He is bigger than anything you are facing!

The Reality of One Flesh

April 3 2015

This month begins the third year without Pam and it’s still hard to believe she’s not here.  I used to post the dates on the blog 3.3.13 – 4.3.15. I stopped marking the time because it’s not really about the amount of time, it about the fact that she is not here today. To understand why it is so hard after two years you have to understand the concept of “One Flesh”.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:5,6

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Pam and I really didn’t fully know what that meant when we said “I Do”, but slowly over time as we pursued God together it started to happen.  The first few years were tough, I wanted to golf, she wanted to lay in the sun, I wanted cars, she wanted clothes.  There were a lot of tears (from Pam) and a lot of confusion (me).  In the beginning marriage was adding something to my life to make me happy, a spouse.  Over time we came to know and appreciate each other more and more.  We also came to realize that our relationship was a gift from God and He had a plan for our marriage.  We talked continually about God’s design for marriage.  Many times it sounded like, “God said you had to…”  We had a long way to go, but we kept growing in our relationship with God and each other.  We were really starting to get it in the years before Pam passed.  She would think about my needs nearly as much as hers and vice versa.  For me when we would go to bed, I would be exhausted but knew that Pam LOVED to have her back lightly scratched, she called it tickling.  That was her favorite, falling asleep getting her back tickled.  At first it was a sacrifice but over time it became a joy.  Anything I could do to make her feel loved and cherished brought me great happiness.  Making her happy became more of a priority to me than making myself happy.  I loved to surprise her, treat her, serve her and help her.  She did the same for me in ways I can’t even explain.  She knew me so well that she would do so many small things nobody else would even notice but that meant so much to me.  And of course she loved to feed me and she was hands down the best cook I have ever known.  One thing that came to mind tonight as I was walking out of a restaurant after having dinner with Molli as I was walking to my car.  While I was walking I was thinking about all the things I need to not forget and just then I realized my mouth was hanging open.  Pam would always catch me when that would happen and gently put her hand under my chin and lift up while smiling and kindly saying, “shut your mouth”.  I had to smile.

We certainly were not perfect but our lives were really our life.  Every aspect of our lives were one.  She was devoted to me and I to her.  We had so much fun in the safety of a marriage built on complete trust and openness.  Our happiness was found in loving and serving each other as we sought God together.  I loved her with every fiber of my being and she submitted to my leadership and showed me more respect than I earned.  Not because I was a great leader but because that’s what God’s word said.  There wasn’t mine and hers, it was ours.  From the beginning we treated money that way too.  At different points Pam would make more money than me or I would make more than her.  It never mattered where the money came from, it went into our account, we were one.

“One Flesh” isn’t just about knowing each other well enough to be able to finish each other’s sentences, though Pam could do that.  As for me, if you knew Pam, there was no way to guess what was going to come out of her mouth, not even me.  “One Flesh” is so much more, so much deeper, so much sweeter.  So as I was holding her hand, watching her take her final breaths, I was trying to imagine what she was about to experience as heaven opened to her and her Savior welcomed her home with pure joy.  At that moment I celebrated in my heart for her envisioning her with arms lifted high squealing with excitement while at the same time I was being crushed with sorrow and sadness.

I miss her not just for what she did for me, not just for the happiness I found in serving her but because she was part of me.  Because of that she is still a huge part of my life and always will be.  We were “one Flesh” and in Pam’s words, “It was God’s plan for us to have these 25 years and it was sweet”.  So please understand that I am celebrating for her while also grieving her loss.  I have been blessed beyond measure to have shared those 25 years with her.

 

Time Flies

Pam Through The Years

Well it’s finally here.  I have been watching it approach for some time and now it’s March 3rd again.  For the past few weeks I have been thinking back in disbelief that two years have passed.  The residual impacts of her love and influence have continued with us.  Because the relationships we had with her were so genuine and sincere there was nothing left undone when she left us.  We have benefited from the warmth of the memories that continue to make us better people.  She was, in so many respects, an extraordinary person.  There was so much depth to her even though it was presented in a very inviting and welcoming personality that nobody could resist.  Everyone that knew her considered Pam to be their friend and in most cases their best friend.  At the front of that line was me, I adored her.  From the first date September 12, 1987 to today, I consider myself the most blessed man I know because of her.  For two years I have tried to explain with words all that I love about Pam and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.  So… at this two year milestone I know I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings about Pam.  The reality is that as time passes memory fades.  That is one of the most difficult aspects of grief.  In an effort to paint as full a picture of who Pam was for her grandbabies, if and when they arrive, I would ask for everyone that knew and loved Pam to share what she meant to you and a story.  There is a link at the top of her blog called “Pam”isms.  Please take a minute to help us tell her story.  It can be something small and silly or profound and life changing.  Sunday I was at church alone.  As we were singing, I started singing the wrong words and, no kidding, I looked next to me, there was an empty chair, and started laughing because Pam was famous for singing the wrong words and we would laugh and laugh.  She was great at laughing at her own mistakes, she never took herself too seriously.  Pam also was well known for tangling with language from time to time.  What story or stories have remained vivid in your mind.  Lets really celebrate Pam today, after all, she is celebrating!  I look forward to reading your memories.

February, A Significant Month

IMG_0500

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

TP1

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

371

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

IMG_0607

 

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.

IMG_0246

 

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

001

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.