An overwhelming sense of foreboding enveloped me as I was jolted awake in the wee hours of morning before the dawn started its descent into the inky darkness. Alarmed, I immediately phoned the number of my husband’s private nurse in the intensive care unit at the hospital where he had undergone open heart surgery two days previously. She assured me he was stable but it was impossible to shake the uneasiness that gripped me.
The surgeon had optimistically given us positive assurance of full recovery and we believed for complete restoration and continuation of effective ministry. He had barely turned 58 and we had celebrated 36 years of marriage and ministry three days prior to the operation. It would only be later on that same day, as he coded twice and life began to ebb from his earthly body, the realization came that God was preparing me for all that would transpire mere hours from that wake-up call.
As my daughter Sara and I stood next to the lifeless earthly body of the man we had both loved, my mind went into hyper gear. How could my life ever be wonderful again without the partnership we shared in both marriage and ministry? My mind, whirling like a giant propeller at breakneck speed, glimpsed vignettes of moments throughout that life together.
As time moved steadily forward, the memories of so many of those precious treasures blurred as moments became weeks, weeks months and months years. I so wanted my tears to wash away the film that dulled my recollection of every special moment that built the great love story with our names as the leading man and woman. It was a love story that would outlast silly immaturities in early years, difficulties and victories all of us in ministry encounter, painful infertility issues, fear of loss during life-threatening cancer, painful decisions while caring for our parents, and now, outlast even physical death of the temporary body.
It is not easy letting go of the past.
Let me admit something right here: it is not easy letting go of the past. Why is that? It is because our loved one is forever there and we want to be where they are.
One might ask what it is that I have learned through this inconceivable journey. The unequivocal truth is that I have learned a volume about myself. Through the most challenging and painful trials that we face in this life, WHO WE ARE comes through loud and clear. It is difficult to face the myriad of imperfections that make up our life but necessary in order to come through the fire and continue to be productive as a Christ follower.
There are so many things about ME that God was not surprised with when I began to question Him on a daily basis. He knows me intimately and therefore He KNEW, without a doubt, that I would be a pistol. He was not surprised or dismayed by me wanting to know 'why' over and over again. My ordeal began with numbing shock and turned into the most agonizing all-consuming pain I have ever experienced. From there, acceptance came (at least most of the time) that I will never know the answers and yet the realization that somehow it is okay.
God, in His sovereignty knew the events of my life before I was born and the plan He has for me. I have been amazed at His intimate nearness and continual presence. It is overwhelming to acknowledge that this great God has a wonderful path planned when there is so much about me that shouts, blemished, faulty, weak and inadequate. My prayer is that I continue to chisel away at those imperfections and follow God with fervor and zeal.
Many of you will experience this same situation one day. Others will most definitely be close to someone who will go through this dark valley. We, as Christ followers, must live with hope of eternal life. If we are unable to cope with our loss, those around us who have watched our life will not see what it means to live as one with hope. It will discourage them and destroy our testimony.
This is not to say we pretend that everything is fine and we are not hurting. We can be transparent in our grief and yet live life with hope. The great gift we have in Jesus is hope that our loved one is in our future. Encourage those around you with this promise.
My journey through grief confirmed the following lessons:
Life is not always fair but it is not personal.
Sometimes the most challenging situations of our lives help develop great faith.
The Holy Spirit is always available to offer assistance. We need to ask and to listen for that still, small voice.
We must think supernaturally and trust when our lives appear tangled and twisted.
Let us choose joy through difficulties.
We should follow God wholeheartedly, even when we are unsure of what is ahead.
Trust God and rest in His sovereignty.
Look beyond our ever-changing circumstances to the ONE who is the same, YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER.
I encourage each of you to cherish every single moment you have with those you hold dear. Tell them how much they mean to you and how you love them. Brag on and emphasize their gifts and talents. Remember always that no one is perfect and we must look for and find the positive attributes, the treasures we see in the ones we love. Believe me, you will remember every single matter you wished you had done but did not and you don’t want to live with regret.
Do not mistake moving on with life as disloyalty to those you have loved. When one we love dies and we are left behind, our life does not end with theirs but God’s plan continues for us. The grief process is diverse and manifests itself differently for each individual. There are stages of grief to go through and it is important to navigate through them in order to begin the healing process. Laying down and giving up is not what the Lord has in mind for us. We must make every effort, and encourage those we minister to, to find a new “normal” and continue to be salt and light to those around us in darkness, hopelessness and despair. Enjoy and relish every season and chapter in your life.
AFTER NOTE: God blessed me with another wonderful man and ministry partner. We have been married six years and life has never been sweeter (but that is another story).
My Journey Through Grief is Entry One of our June blog series, Share Your Story. Do you have a story to share? One of God's faithfulness through a difficult time? Or one of victory over a personal battle you've fought? We are looking for stories to share for our fall blog series. Contact us with your information and include a single paragraph overview. Let's connect!
Teena Whaley Culbreth has been in ministry for 44 years. Her primary passion in ministry, in this season of her life, is to minister to pastor's wives. "There are many in Arkansas (where we live) in remote locations who need someone to talk to and need encouragement. Some feel isolated and invisible." Teena and her husband, Cecil, have four children between them. "I brought one into this marriage." The couple has eight grandchildren with a ninth due in July.
In her free time, Teena enjoys reading, quilting, hiking, American history and Bible journaling. When asked what or who impacted her ministry philosophy, Teena said, "My ministry has been impacted by a number of people. I had a godly mother who consistently emulated Jesus, Godly Pentecostal pastors who led by example, and a young husband who followed God with gusto."
Connect with Teena on Facebook.