Waking before dawn today at 3:50 am, my first thought was "on this day three years ago my life changed dramatically." It was the last day I saw Josh’s face and held his hand. It was a ridiculously sad day.
It’s hard to return to sleep after waking to such thoughts. So many more things ran rampant in my mind from there. I did eventually sleep again, waking to a conversation via text from a friend who thoughtfully referred to the day as “Happy Josh’s Day - the day he got to see our Savior face to face” - that is an encouraging thought for sure.
Now hours later, as I am reflecting on this busier-than-expected third anniversary, my mind is still wired up. This week particularly, has been packed with life, work projects, and preparing to share part of my grief story at a women’s retreat this weekend - of all weekends!
It's crazy to look around at life today and realize how many people don’t know what my life looked like three years ago. Sure, there are plenty of dear friends that do, but there are many new friends and acquaintances who don't have any idea. Additionally, there have been many new wonderful unexpected adventures since then.
Often as we experience deep heartache and grief - through the loss of someone dear - it is hard to believe that there could even be a good next adventure or season. Even IF we think it’s possible, we debate if we really want it – the past was so good, can we just stay there a little longer?
Trust me I get it. I’ve had all of these thoughts, but keep trucking along. As I do, I keep finding goodness and beauty. I will never tell you there is a timetable on your grief journey - or a time to stop crying - it varies so much with each person and story. But I do know that hope comes with embracing each new day and seeing what good God might have to share with you. There is hope to be found, there's sun shining on the water, and healing that is in process – even now, within our stories.
For me, on this third September 30, my heartache mended a bit more as I enjoyed God’s creation paddling down a Missouri river soaking in the beauty of this world with a loving friend. And then a little more this evening as I sang out praises at a park and laughed playing goofy games, building friendships with ladies from my church. I wouldn’t have pictured this three years ago, but God did – that’s definitely an interesting thought.
This day, is still special because Josh was/is special, yet I know I can also honor him by continuing to trust God daily and by embracing the day's joys and challenges as much as possible - with honesty.
In preparing for the women's retreat, I found a song that has been echoing through my mind every day this week – on the water, on the road, and as I practiced the guitar outside the “glamping tent” I stayed in yesterday, where I retreated to spend time resting and not ignoring my grief process.
Here are a few lines that seem to perfectly fit this season, words I think Josh and his artistic mind might have also enjoyed. He always talked about God’s goodness. Always.
You make all things work together
For my future and for my good
You make all things work together
For Your glory and for Your name
For my good, for my good
When I doubt it, Lord, remind me
I'm wonderfully made
You're an artist and a potter
I'm the canvas and the clay .... you're not finished with me yet....
Listen to the full song below:
Standing starring out my hotel window near Nashville, the thought crosses my mind, “Would I have ended up moving here with Josh?” It’s not too wild of a thought. You see, before he got sick, we talked about what might be next, a career change, a location change. We talked about many options for our next step in life and ministry. There was a lot happening in our personal conversations related to our future. This all got halted with a brain cancer diagnosis, treatment and the total change of life course direction. In our dreaming stage, Nashville was a place that intrigued us both - even still in my old Google chat there sits a conversation between us about this city.
As I ponder the initial question, I, of course, take it a step further pondering, “Would my life be better if Josh and I could have moved here together?” If we were in fact attending a conference together … if he were still here? My heart screams “Yes, of course!!”
But then clarity and God’s truth echos out. “No.” That’s too short-sighted.
It’s unfair to try and compare the “what ifs” to “what is”because I’ll always sit in deficit and disappointment. And because in doing so, I am missing out on what God is doing here and now. My life couldn’t be better because it is still good today. My life IS good because God is with me. He was with me when we were exploring options of what was next, he was with me in the midst of the hard nights of sickness, grief, loss and the heartache. He is with me now - in my tears that spring up three years later. He is even with me now as I stare somewhat longingly out a hotel window in a “what if” city.
This is not me trying to hopefully wipe away the heartache and missing part of my life, but it is a reality check that I must still see God here in now. In this new part of the story, in the what could be today if I continue to trust him fully. To believe that beauty and blooms can come from what seems like destruction.
I admit a big sigh happens there when I type, “Trust Him Fully” because it’s a challenge after what I consider a “big let down.” It’s a choice to trust. It’s a choice to believe God is with me and still showing up. And yeah… it is challenging but I am willing.
How about you? Are you up for a God trust challenge too?
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.”
Have you ever woke from a dream feeling still caught up in the moment? Your heart still racing? This indeed was the start to my day.
The dream, like a movie, felt so real when my alarm sounded cutting the scene that I didn't want to end. The story line . . . Josh had returned from the dead. He was there with my friends Nathan and Alicia, acting different but walking, talking, laughing and wearing his favorite blue cardigan. We were in some apartment and heading to the doctor to figure out how this happened and if he was ok upon his return. On the side, I was trying to stealthily call my boyfriend to let him know about the awkward surprise that had just occurred. Josh knew something was up. I was torn. This wasn't suppose to happen.
Waking from this detailed dream, my heart was pounding and my body tense. I knew it wasn't real, but I still had to take a moment to convince myself. And although, I could almost explain why I had this dream, based on the days' activities* – it was still jarring.
Thinking on this more, I realize that this dream reflects my heart and mind. A heart and mind that is still wounded and torn. A heart that loves my late spouse dearly, but one still working on navigating new parts of life and trusting the process a little more. A heart that wonders if the hurt will ever truly disappear.
Once again, I land on the truth that grief is complicated. It’s not something that can easily be erased or "gotten over." It takes root deep within - even at times causing one to dream the impossible. It stirs up hope for what could never be and at times has you still wishing you could have changed the ending in some way or another.
Sharing this might seem goofy, but I hope in doing so that someone feels encouraged - or slightly less crazy. I am an advocate for talking about grief - even the weird parts. Both our unique tories and grief are layered with complications and even strangeness (for sure!).
It’s been almost 3 years since Josh passed away (on Sept 30, 2019) and here I am still having random emotionally-packed dreams, and the weight of him not being part of my daily story resonates. Yes, I can go about most days without crying, I can sit at a table alone and feel fine. I can even lean into my new surroundings with a bit more confidence, and try new silly things, but the undercurrent remains. Don’t let me fool you with my shenanigans and adventures, just because I’m doing new things doesn’t mean my late love doesn’t cross my mind in someway or another every single day. I both love the fact that he is so woven into my life and hate it as I wish it wasn't so distracting.
As I drift to sleep at the end of this day, the intense feelings of last night's vivid dream have faded and another day comes to a close. I wonder if I'll have another jarring dream tonight or catch a glimpse of the person I once knew so well - who knows.
One thing I do know, is that either way God is with me (and you). That's a comforting thought to rest my head on.
*Things that explain last nights dream (kind of) if I go down the logic track...
- Eating lunch with Josh’s mom and grandma that day, it being September, plus Nathan’s birthday the day before, and last, sitting and watching couples dance when someone sang “The Dance” at open mic (I attended solo) - which reminded me of when Josh and I heard the actual writer of the song, Tony Arata, perform it at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville (picture provided). And the opening lines of that song ...
On the memory of
The dance we shared
'Neath the stars above
For a moment
All the world was right
But how could I have known
That you'd ever say goodbye . . .
Today's a special day. August 2. The day my mom was born 70 years ago. While I thought about her life and legacy much of the day, and all that she represents in my life, there wasn't a big birthday party celebration that I imagine still would have been fun. Instead, the day included simple things like biscuits for breakfast, wearing emerald green - her favorite color, eating mint ice cream with my uncle (her brother) and singing a song that reflected a sixteenth note of her life.
Strangely, this year, I find myself at the exact same year of age she was when she passed away (24 years ago). While I don't like to admit to aging - I'm forever young right!? - it is indeed true, and time passes too quick. It's hard to believe it has been so long since I saw my mom's face, heard her laugh, talked theology, or shopped together, yet all of these memories are still so vibrant in my mind. In one moment, it seems only a day away; in the next, an eternity.
Whether I am talking about the loss of my spouse or my mom, I continue to find as I navigate conversations with people fresh in their grief and those more seasoned, that there's still a need to just talk about it. To ask questions like, "What do you miss most?" "How has this process been for you?" . . . "How did their life change yours?" These questions can feel like prying but surprisingly there's a spark the happens - I think this is because all of us who are grieving still want to remember the people we love so dearly. We don't want them to be gone. Grief is a constant balance of trying to move forward in life and embrace the beauty and hope that is this new chapter or reality, while simultaneously navigating the challenging pieces of deep sorrow, doubt and heartache.
And yes, it's still complicated. It always is.
So . . . my centering moment and prayer at the end of this day is one of gratitude for my mom, Carol, who encouraged me, for this grace-filled woman who prayed for me and many others. Someone who left a legacy that still to this day encourages me to walk in kindness in a way that hopefully makes a difference.
If your heart is grieving and heavy today. Hold on and hold tight to God's great comfort. He's right there too. You might not feel it - trust me I've not always felt it, but I trust in his comfort ever still.
The third week of May has been special for many years – and this week is no exception. In fact, it was even more so because two precious babies entered this world on May 16.
Upon hearing the news that my sister-in-law Erin gave birth to her girls (Selah Dawn and Everly Lou), I packed up my car and drove 12ish hours to see her and her husband, Zion and my new nieces. I didn’t care if only I saw them through a window for five minutes – I had to be there. They just mean too much to let this moment in time pass without a visit.
Of course, having a lot of windshield time, allows for plenty of thinking too. The timing of this week and adventure meant I was literally heading into another special date . . . my would-be 20th wedding anniversary on May 18.
One particular question came to mind as I processed this would-be date. “How do you move past the ‘would-have beens’ and shift to ‘what could be?’” This stumped me for a good part of the drive. There is so much joy in looking back at Josh and I’s story. Together, we often wondered what 20 years, 24 years or 44 years, etc . . . might look like – it was hard to imagine but fun to try. There are many moments when I still wish for this and I admit that realizing the "would-have been 20" did bring tears to my eyes.
Here in 2022, I am experiencing a different reality. One that means moving forward and looking ahead to what could be in this new landscape. Wrestling out the question mile by mile, the answer hit me somewhere in Kansas.
How do I move past the would-bes to the could-bes? By focus on “What Is.”
There is much to celebrate in what is happening in this season. Yes, there’s are hard pieces, but many moments to celebrate. I don’t want to miss the good moments and how God continues to speak in my grief journey by looking back too intently.
This year’s reality meant I spent my wedding anniversary with my late husband’s sister –– together in the hospital for a whole different reason than sickness or cancer. On this special day, I witnessed her and her husband holding their little girls for the first time at the same time. What a truly cherished moment to witness, and a memory I won’t forget. Together, we were teary-eyed for different reasons than grief.
On my return drive back to Missouri, I found myself listening to one of Josh’s sermons on love. He preached this message also on a third week of May (Mother’s Day 2012). I know I shouldn’t still be surprised by how God reveals his truth over and over again but once again I was.
In his message, he shared three main points about love.
Love is our Foundation
Love is our Fuel
Love is our Future
So, here I am processing life for what it contains today . . . a tornado of joy for what is, sorrow for what might have been, sprinkled with hope for developing relationships and more. Seemingly, this all fits perfectly and weirdly together. And the key . . . love.
May 18 will always be special because, as a “forever friend” said to me this week, “It’s special because it will always be the day you married Josh Brown.” It’s also the day I officially gained a bonus family (and sister). This year, it was special because I got be with my “sister” and her family for many special moments.
There are many more moments happening this week to celebrate. Moments to also lean into the could-bes and trust a bit more in what love is.
Moving forward in grief means taking on the challenge that love is also my fuel and future.
There’s joy in that for sure.
(Bonus pics of mom, dad, little baby hands, and Colorado.)
In case you didn't know, it's National Widow's Day - a day that no one really wants to celebrate. It's definitely much more fun to celebrate, "National Two Different Colored Shoes Day," a quirky marker that also lands on this date.
Still as I saw National Widow's Day referenced in a few different places, it seemed like a good time to share a post I have been meaning to write since Easter, but have been too distracted or busy.
This year, as part of Easter, our church’s creative team made some plain wood crosses and offered these to various creatives, inviting them to design these in whatever way reflected their story and God's. I debated on doing one and initially planned to make a cross covered in nature (moss, rocks, dirts, etc) highlighting God's beauty in this world. But, in a moment of creative curiosity - I took one of my late husband’s old button up shirts - that happen to have very subtle skulls on it -and wrapped it around the middle: it worked and sparked what I ended up calling my “Grief Bearer” cross.
Visual art has not really been my career focus (I'm more of the writer/digital designer) - in fact, Josh was the studio arts major in our relationship so this was all new. Much like the new surprises around each corner in grief, I soon found myself sifting through boxes of old shirts that I didn’t know what to do with and little by little found pieces of clothing to wrap, cut, tear, and place together in a new artistic way.
Fearing the piece might look like a weird scarecrow, I decided to add some extras. In my quest, I found an old Bible Josh had used for notes, school and study. It was a cheap one he had often stuffed in pockets, and was quite a mess but the front page had a special note. It simply said, "Remember Then Rejoice } = the Gospel of Christ."
He had written the words down from someones' sermon years ago and clearly it had an impact. Josh often talked about the importance of remembering. He loved referencing this constant reminder from the Old Testament and urged others to remember God’s faithfulness no matter what. I'm pretty sure, he'd still say the same thing to me today (even on National Widow's Day). This truth rang out - as a fitting statement for Easter - so much so that his note became the central element on this creative piece.
For years, Easter has presented such mix of grief and joy. It's a day of celebrating Christ's gift to us all but also rings of greater sorrow since my mom passed away on Easter in 1998. With this heartache also in mind, I opted to incorporate another layer into the cross: Scripture cuts outs from my childhood Bible (that had long since fallen apart) and a sign I made for my mom growing up that states, “Love Bears All Things.”
So apt! Christ bears our grief! This truth is declared in Isaiah 53: 4-5 (below). God is our ultimate grief bearer - and he remains with us at each turn! At times, this doesn't make us feel better - when the grief feels so heavy - but there is comfort to cling too over and over again.
Two years+ into the loss of my beloved spouse, my heart still stings and I wonder if I am actually better? I know I am but still . . . grief is messy and layered - much like this artistic cross that some might find odd even as it seems so fitting.
The challenge to "Remember Then Rejoice" is hard. There are moments when I simply want remember and stop time. Pressing through to gratitude and rejoicing can be a struggle when we still wish for a different ending. Yet again, I am reminded that God - not just Josh - calls me to rejoice. God calls me to rejoice in the artistic work that He is still showcasing and the story that is still being written in me and those around me.
A prayer for this day and many more . . .
Lord help me trust you today.
Help me to Remember Then Rejoice . . .
. . . Even in my heartache
. . . Even in my questions
. . . Even in my healing
. . . Even in the new pieces
Thank you for taking on my grief and helping bear it.
Surely He has borne our griefs
Hi! It's Jenn Brown, writing my story that is now slightly different as we enter a season of new grief. On September 30, 2019, my dear husband Josh passed away after battling brain cancer.