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
You’ve probably heard the comment that grief is not something you get over but rather something that goes with you. The whole title of this blog, Grieving On, reflects this idea. Over the past few weeks, so many thoughts centered around grief and my own process have pinged in my head and heart. It’s whirling inside me so much that I finally had to just attempt to write it out.
Feeling now a bit more seasoned in my grief, I can see the triggers that stir up the “grief storms,” which include helping lead a grief group where I hear other stories of loss that cause great empathy, to returning to places like Dallas where Josh and I really found our footing in ministry in a whole new way, then trying once again to sort through boxes to give away, sharing my story with new people, and hearing God’s echoing reminder to trust him ever still and remember his faithfulness.
This month, it seems, there are also many "then vs now" articles comparing March 2020 and today. As I look back two years, Covid was ramping up; the world was shutting down and I was just beginning to see the light of hope again after falling into a really dark period of grief.
Life felt so isolating before the shut down, I was struggling with insomnia and a herniated disc due to the previous months of caretaking and I honestly didn’t know what in the world God had for me next. I missed Josh so much I felt I couldn’t breathe. Slowly, I started to hike and found my strength physically but also emotionally. The fog of grief cleared more and more even as the heartache still cut deep. I began to write a list about “who I was now" and prayed for strength . . . I wandered aimless in the grief desert. I am not even sure people knew just how low a point that winter was for me. I am not sure I shared it completely or knew how to. With roots of trusting God still deep within, I stumbled ahead and began to see cracks of light from the dark cloud of grief and heartache.
Fast-forward now 2 years from that time, and I can say the storm clouds have moved on but there is still sorrow within - I expect there might always be. When friends say, “I miss Josh” and I can only respond with “Me too,” but that answer often feels lackluster for the depth of what it means.
Each week, I weave the fabric of new with my old story. I try an remember God’s faithfulness and provision then and now. Last Sunday, I had the opportunity visit a church that we loved in Irving, Tx. The now lead pastor, Barry Jones, was Josh’s advisor and boss and was such a huge influence on Josh and his/our ministry. Hearing him preach was like catching a glimpse of Josh again - even more so as he preached on Deuteronomy (Josh’s favorite book) with the overall message, “Don’t Forget to Remember.” Several things stood out, including the comment that, “Sometimes God will lead us on the wandering way.” The path may not make sense at all, and it probably won’t be a straight line, but God is there in the midst and cares about who we are becoming along the way.
Those who know me, know I love to wander. Wandering on trails or roads, wandering around town, shoe stores, etc. The Tolkien quote, “Not all who wander are lost,” hangs in my bathroom. So yeah, wandering fits. So why should I be surprised that God has me wandering still in life, asking me to trust him in deeper and deeper ways.
So, today, I’ll trust him as I navigate new and old relationships and whatever is next. I’ll trust him as I still ask questions. On this path, I don’t want to forget to remember God’s hope that remained in the darkest times. I don't want to forget to remember how God showed up in creative ways.
It’s hard to imagine what might be happening two years from now but I do know God is still faithful and he is still good - even if typing those words still stings.
Wherever God has you wandering today, I pray you’ll get a glimpse of his love for you.
If you indeed were stuck in a “Groundhog Day” situation, what day you would want to repeat? What incredible memory would be worth recapturing over and over. In the comedic movie of the same name, “Phil” relives a workday that he wouldn’t have picked.
This year’s February 2 is interesting in two ways. One, it is 2-2-22. And two, it marks the 20-year anniversary of my late husband asking me to marry him (2-2-02) - which was indeed a memorable day.
I still remember how I felt 20 years ago. I had a feeling something was up and after seven years of dating, chats about marriage and a special date night planned, my curiosity radar was pinging. The day turned long with anticipation. We met up in the afternoon, watched the extended The Lord of the Rings at the theater, had dinner, then had to “stop by the church” for something that turned out to be a creative movie Josh made to propose on the big screen. We followed up my “yes” by meeting up with friends at a restaurant to celebrate the good news, I think around 10pm that night. I remember so much about this day and night - even the perfect purple sweater I wore.
Today, 20 years later I think, “Now that’s a day I could relive.” Even with all that I (and we) experienced, even through the heartache of losing a great love from this world, I would choose to say, “Yes” all over again. Looking at our story, there are many days and adventures worth repeating but there was something beautiful, fun and hopeful about that particular day.
A little over two years into my widowhood journey, I find that it is still hard to trust and hope in what’s to come next. To truly believe that there will be days worth repeating, days that will have the same emotional and life-changing impact - memorable days filled with hope where my mind doesn’t wonder what might ruin this good thing.
Grieving on means continuing to acknowledge and celebrate the past while not getting stuck there.
It means trusting in the good. Especially as a younger widow, this means continuing to trust in the hope God offers. A hope that is bigger than me and longer lasting than my timetable. One of the biggest lies we (and I) can start to believe is that “the best is behind.” Grief especially that relates to losing someone so closely wrapped into our heart and everyday life, magnifies this feeling and lie. Grief often tries to swallow up our hope.
Yet, as I continuing to look at God’s Word, I find truth and encouragement that says - more than once - that there is a hope and future in my story . . . still. God has designed our lives with a hope and future. This declaration needs repeating - this is a truth I must repeat over and over. God’s story of hope was relevant in 1977 (and before), in 2002 and here today in 2022.
Wherever you are today and whatever day you wish to relive, I hope you will be encouraged in the truth that God is with you and is still writing a hopeful story - a story that may very well include memorable days that you'd love to repeat.
I did celebrate 2-22-22 by eating ice cream at 2:22 alongside someone who encourages me to enjoy each day and keep making memories. Thanks Brad.
Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all, but I want more …
And I’m waiting for You
With or without you . . .
I can’t live
With or without You
These words, continue to echo in my mind as I reflect on my experience from Tuesday night. The experience? Singing a U2 cover at an Open Mic night with a piano surrounded by people I didn’t know two years ago.
This is one of the many “new things” that have become part of my life in this season of Grieving On.
A season that is indeed “without” my late husband. While the words of the song declare the tension, “I can’t live with or without you,” I can’t fully claim these words as my own truth because I have indeed learned to live with and without him.
We lived through the storm of cancer, and death. I’ve lived through moving, making choices for good or bad, and navigating so many new things over the past two years - especially this past year. There are still days, when I feel like I am waiting for him to return, but I don’t let that desire and thought dominate my decisions . . . it simply is part of my story. I want to enjoy life for what it is … after all I am still here . . . with and without him.
It is easy to fall victim to the idea that my good life is over . . . to think “the best has happened.” Yet, this is NOT the truth that I know God has for me. Even when tears still suddenly spring up because I miss "what was" so much, I aim to fall forward in hope, trusting in the truth that God is still shaping me and my story. My life is not over. Lately, I’ve consider the thought that my “today” might not even be a second chapter but rather a whole new novel filled with adventures yet to happen. It will have it's own set of dramatic elements.
As I surrender to this idea, I am learning more about who I am and am doing activities I might night have experienced or tried before. Taking a risk seems less risky with a shattered heart. Yes, at times I fear being hurt again so it takes courage to trust, hope, adventure and extend love in a new direction.
Reflecting today, at the beginning of a new year. I can’t help but look back – not on Josh and I’s story, but on the many things that have taken place in the space between then and now. This recap is not sorrowful but exciting, creating a, “Wow, that really happened!” thought, that serves as a reminder that there is still more to discover.
A few spotlights from a year where grief still weaved in an out:
• I bought a whole bunch of kayaks and kayaked all over the place (The Missouri River, a Kentucky Mine, various rivers and lakes in MO - 10 out 12 months and am figuring out how to use these more and more.)
• I got brave and sang at an Open Mic for the first time with a new guitar that I’m learning to play
• I found ways to spend time with my dad playing old country music
• I hiked all kinds of trails, up hills, around bluffs, solo and with friends
• I vacationed to Kentucky and Florida and Colorado (solo, with new friends and with Josh’s fam)
• I upgraded to a larger camper and adventured with this in unexpected ways
• I explored new waterfalls and continued to embrace loving someone who didn’t exist in my life 2 years ago.
• I went marble hunting (and found lots!)
• I continued to do ministry and life on my own - slowly letting go of the thought that Josh might show up any minute as my ministry counterpart.
• I still cried randomly because it still feels unfair
• I got a tattoo!
• I celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family and in turn he celebrated the holidays with
• I continued to navigate the old with the new . . .
I say all this not to boost about all the things I did but just to acknowledge that these are all part of me. These spotlights are part of learning to be me without Josh. And within each one there is a sliver of Josh with me - because I am who I am today because of his existence in my life. I am so thankful for that part of me.
If you are reading this as a fellow widow or even in a season of change, I hope to encourage you and challenge you to try something new for you this year. Don’t be surprised by what God has for you. I often think, “How did I get here?” But I quickly realize it’s because I took a step into trusting in God and in the fact that my story is still going. Yes, this can be scary but it can also be fun and tremendously good.
Adventure On My Friends. You've got this!
P.S. Coming up in 2022, I’ll be sharing my adventures in new ways and inviting you to be part of it - at least that’s the plan. :)
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.