by Eric Elder
Note from Eric: Today I’m sharing with you Part 4 of our series on “Transitions” and how God can help you through the transitions you’re going through. Today’s message is one I’ve never shared before about how God spoke to me on my 25th wedding anniversary this year after losing my wife, Lana, to cancer. If you’d like to hear more about how God can help you through the transitions you’re facing, I hope you’ll join us for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat in October. I’ll be there, along with several other writers of this series. You can find out more about the retreat at the link at the end of today’s message.
I was sending some texts back and forth with my daughter yesterday afternoon. At one point I set my phone down on the desk and thought, “I haven’t heard from Lana yet today. She’ll probably be texting soon, too.” Then I remembered: Lana’s not here anymore. She’s gone and she won’t be coming back. She won’t be texting today. Or tomorrow. Or ever again. Ambushed by grief once again, I burst into tears.
It’s been over 20 months now since Lana passed away. Overall, I think I’m doing pretty good. But to be honest, I could still cry about 4 or 5 times a day. I usually don’t, though, because there’s too much to do to stop and cry whenever I feel like it. But sometimes, like yesterday, I just let it all out. Then I blow my nose, wipe my tears and keep going forward.
How am I going to make it through this transition? How can anyone make it through the transitions they’re going through, whether they’ve lost a spouse or a parent or a child or a friend, whether it’s through sickness or death or a simple miscommunication that resulted in a broken relationship?
It’s hard to do life alone. But if you trust in God, it’s helpful to remember that you’re never really alone. He’s with you always. As Jesus said to His disciples one day:
“You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32b, NIV).
I realized the truth of this again a few months ago when my wedding anniversary was coming up. I knew it would be my anniversary in a few days and I remembered the grief books I read said it was helpful to plan something to do something on those special days so you don’t get ambushed by grief when they come up.
I tried to think of something I might do, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Lana had been gone a year and a half and I’d already been through one anniversary without her. I thought a little more about it and wondered how many years it would have been this year. Then it hit me: this would have been our 25th anniversary, a time when people take trips or do something a little more exotic than usual. Suddenly I couldn’t imagine just staying home and trying to work, do school with the kids, and make breakfast, lunch and dinner as if it were just any other day.
But I didn’t know what else to do. Everything I could think of seemed so disappointing. I was afraid I was going to explode. I had to get away, but to where?
I had just done a wedding for some friends and they went to Cancun on the northern coast of Mexico. It looked and sounded so romantic and wonderful. Then I remembered my sister had offered me a “buddy pass” on the airline where she worked a few months earlier. Back when she asked me, I didn’t have anywhere special I needed to go. But now I did. I called her and asked if she still had the pass and if I might use it to go to Cancun for my anniversary, just from Tuesday to Thursday of that week.
I had that conversation with my sister on Sunday, we booked the flight on Monday, and I was on a flight to Cancun on Tuesday. For the first hour on the plane I thought I was crazy. But then God began to speak to me, showing me that He was going with me the whole way. He changed my attitude in a matter of minutes.
I had been wearing a suit and tie for the flight because to use the buddy pass you have to dress up. But I didn’t plan to dress up this much. It was just what I happened to find in the closet the morning of the trip. I realized my mistake when I got on the plane to Cancun and saw that I was the only one on the whole plane in a suit and tie!
I was feeling uncomfortable and out of place, but then I realized that this was the exact same suit and tie and shirt that I had worn to attend a wedding with Lana a few years earlier which turned out to be one of my favorite memories, dancing and romancing the whole night with her. It was also the same suit and tie and shirt that I had worn on the day I preached at her funeral, when I handed her over to her bridegroom forever, Jesus. And it was the exact same suit and tie and shirt that I was now wearing here on our 25th wedding anniversary, going on a 3-way date with just God and me and my memories of Lana.
I realized it wasn’t a mistake that these were the clothes I happened to put on that morning. This was the perfect outfit to wear for the occasion! I smiled as I thought of how God was setting me up for the day, even when I arrived in the sweltering heat at the airport in Cancun, surrounded by people wearing nothing but Bermuda shorts and tank tops. I was so happy to be dressed up for my anniversary! God had changed my attitude in those few moments on the plane, and instead of dreading this day, I was already looking forward to it and to whatever else God had in mind for this trip.
I took a shuttle to the hotel, sat by the pool and got a hamburger. Then I headed out to the beach to sit for awhile and read my Bible. I opened it up to Psalm 63, a psalm that David wrote when he was out in the wilderness. David said:
“God – You’re my God! I can’t get enough of You! I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in Your strength and glory. In Your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless You every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to You. I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!“ (Psalm 63:1, MSG).
Here was David, out in the wilderness alone, yet he couldn’t stop praising God! David couldn’t get enough of Him! Just reading that phrase made me smile because it was the same thing another man said about his fiancé when I was doing their pre-marital counseling. He was telling me about his love for her and said, “I love her so much, I can’t get enough of her!” I knew what he meant. I could see it in his eyes. He loved being intimate with her. And that was just what David said about being intimate with God. “God – You’re my God, I can’t get enough of You!”
I flipped back a page and read Psalm 62. Although I could have been heartbroken that I wasn’t with Lana on this trip, God reminded me that even though I wasn’t with her, I was with Him, the One who created Lana in the first place and gave her all the life and breath and beauty that I adored. I wasn’t with her, but I was with the One who created her! I had to say, like David said, “God – You’re my God, I can’t get enough of You!” Here’s what I read in Psalm 62 that helped me see it in a new light:
“God, the one and only – I’ll wait as long as He says. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life” (Psalm 62:1-2, MSG).
As I read those words I realized that everything I needed comes from God, just like Lana had come from God. Now there I was with the One who created all that I’ve ever loved in life. I could actually see how David could be in a desert yet still he could say, “I bless You every time I take a breath… I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy: I smack my lips.”
Some people might have been uncomfortable eating alone on their 25th anniversary trip. But I decided to splurge as I knew I would have done if Lana were there. One night I couldn’t decide between the filet mignon and the lobster, so I got both! I had already saved some money by coming alone, so I made the most of it! It turned out to be one of the best vacations I’ve ever had in my life and I’m so glad I went.
We can’t always run away to Cancun, but I wanted to tell you that story because I had a choice to make. I could either stay home and cry and run away from God, or I could get out and live and run into God’s wide-open arms. Being alone isn’t alone when you’re alone with God.
I’m discovering things in this time of being alone with God that are so precious to me. I’m not just trying to make lemonade out of lemons; I’m trying to make lemonade and drink it fully until I’m truly satisfied. Even though I could cry 4 or 5 times a day, I’ve found there’s a depth to my relationship with God during this time, and by extension my relationships with others, that goes deeper than ever before.
I know I’m not the only one to find such gems as I go deeper. I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and she quotes F. B. Meyer as saying the same thing:
“I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.” (p. 171).
Maybe you’re in the midst of a transition that was not of your choosing, one in which you’ve lost something or someone that made life so special for you. Maybe you’re waiting for God to put things back together again, or at least waiting for Him to help you make sense of what you’ve been going through.
For me, God keeps reminding me that everything I need comes from Him, just like Lana came from Him. I want to say, like David said: “God, the one and only – I’ll wait as long as He says. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not?”
No, I won’t get a text from Lana today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get to see her again. No, I can’t be intimate with her like I was before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be intimate with the One who created her, the One who spoke to me so clearly as I was sitting on a plane to Cancun in a suit and tie or as I read from His Word on a beach on my wedding anniversary.
I know God is working it all out, so I’ll just keep putting my trust and faith in Him. Everything I need comes from Him, so why not?
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for taking our horrible circumstances and turning them around for good. Help us to keep waiting on You, trusting You with all things. You’re our Creator and the One who loves us most in this world. Help us to know that You’re working things out, that You’ll never leave us alone, and that everything we need really does come from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I hope you’ll join us for our Ranch Retreat in October where we’ll be talking more about transitions and how God can help us through them. I’ll be there, along with several other writers of this series! Click here to learn more or to register.
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