Navigating Widowhood to Marriage Part II: The Release of Expectations

“Releasing Expectations to Embrace God’s Plan.” – Helen Elizabeth

Over the last year, I’ve been building up the courage to chase wholeheartedly after my dream of being a writer and speaker. After making the decision to go all in, I then began trying to define what the core of my ministry would be. After lots of reflection on different aspects of my life, I finally decided on the mission statement above because I believe it encompasses what I desire for myself and for you – the people I encourage.

Releasing Expectations is a tricky concept because they come in two forms:

  1. Expectations we place on God, people (or relationships) and ourselves.
  2. Expectations people place on us.

As I’ve mentioned before, not all expectations are bad. My parents, for example, expected me to make good grades and treat people kindly. No, we’re not talking about those. I’m talking about unwarranted expectations. In my last post, I wrote about releasing expectations I shouldn’t have placed on God. Today, I’ll be focusing on releasing unwarranted expectations we allow people to place on us.

This is where I pick back up with the story…

Releasing the Expectations of Widowhood

December 27, 2017, marked the second anniversary of Craig’s passing. As I drove to the cemetery to meet Randy and Julie, I found myself reflecting on the past two years…How my life had changed, and how I wondered when [and if] it would ever be different. During my time as a widow, I worked really hard to not let expectations I had for my life dictate my happiness. But I realize now that with all that effort directed within, I wasn’t seeing how I was allowing other people’s expectations for widows dictate my actions.

As I stood with Randy and Julie under the Cedar tree next to Craig’s resting place, I was overcome with the greatest sense of gratitude for Craig’s family. I never wanted to go through this experience, but since I had to, I’m thankful I had a family by my side who loved God and who loved me.

After a while, we went back to the car and Julie prompted a conversation that would lift a weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize I was carrying. In this conversation, she told me about a letter that her late husband’s family wrote to her. A letter explaining that they wanted her to be happy. After telling me the contents of the letter, she went on to say, “Well Helen, we don’t have a letter, but we want you to know that we want you to be happy too. You don’t need our permission, but if you were waiting for it, we want to tell you to move forward with your life. You’re so young, you don’t need to be alone. Not marrying isn’t proving that you love Craig more, and getting married doesn’t mean you love him less.”

Needless to say, many tears were shed as I drove away that evening. The selflessness of both Julie and Randy amazed me.

I’ll be transparent here and say that this point of widowhood is confusing. The feeling of being ready to move forward, but also hurting because that means life is moving forward without your late husband is hard for your brain to grasp. It leaves you wondering how you could feel both feelings at once; and if that wasn’t enough, you’re subconsciously fearful of the few people who will judge you for moving forward.

But those aren’t the expectations God, or the people who truly know my heart have for me. I was holding fast to expectations that people created and that God never meant for me. Deep down I knew this, so that night I asked God to give me the strength to release those expectations and embrace His plan.

Little did I know, God was already at work.

Third Times the Charm

I’m a firm believer in God’s use of the number three. The most obvious being The Trinity (Father. Son. Holy Spirit.)…and the less obvious [and more humorous] being the number of times it took for Andrew and me to finally get. it. together.

(Seriously people, I used to be a hot mess.)

One night when I was insanely bored, I decided to clean my back room and happened to find my dad’s old video camera. Obviously, I stopped cleaning at once and turned on the camera to see what kind of home video gold I had just uncovered. I fast forwarded through an old cheer competition until someone on the screen caught my eye. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched a 17-year-old version of Andrew and myself making faces at each other across the table at a dinner with our friends.

After rewatching that a few hundred times, I then fast-forwarded to a scene from football season. There I was, waiting to tumble across the field in front of all the football players, and there was Andrew [full upper body painted with a “P” across his chest for the dual purpose of representing NPHS and his last name, Peters] doing his best to distract me by popping me with a rally rag. I literally laugh out loud as I sat alone in my house as I watched a baby version of myself trying to grab the rag from Andrew as he darted back to the other chest painted guys getting ready to run out with the team.

I replayed this video several times in a row before I allowed the thought to enter my mind. Should I text him? What if he doesn’t want to talk to me? What would I say? I decided on the grand idea of sending him a facebook message of a recording of the video I just watched and tell him how funny it was. Ya…that seems like a good idea.

Let me just share with you how the rest of the night went down…

As soon as I hit send I started freaking out. What if he didn’t see it? What if he thought it was weird? Or worse! What if he had a girlfriend?! [30 Facebook stalking minutes later] – Alright, we’re good. I was almost 98% certain he didn’t have a girlfriend. But wait, it had been 30 minutes, why hadn’t he messaged back? I should text him instead. What should I say? “Hey! Is this still Andrew?” Ya…that seems like a good idea.

And again, freak out commences. Seriously, Helen? “Is this still Andrew?” Great choice. Just call it a night, Helen…Unless that was just him who texted! Oh no, just a bed bath and beyond email. Ok, just call it a night.

Yep. I got tons of sleep that night. (No I didn’t.)

Two Times before the Third

After dating all Senior year of high school, Andrew and I broke up before we left for college. Ya, I know, typical. We then proceeded to be that on-again-off-again couple before finally trying to date seriously our Senior year of college. We lasted until February, and you guessed it, we broke up right before Valentine’s Day…again, typical.

One thing I’ve always loved about Andrew was how straightforward he was. I didn’t love his timing on that particular day, but I loved that he always told me the truth. I didn’t realize, however, that on this particular day, his truthfulness would prompt a drastic change within me. A change that would eventually lead me to believing I could do something like pageants, as well as make me the kind of woman Craig was going to need several years later.

When most guys break up with you they say something like, “It’s not you babe, it’s me.” But not Andrew. Instead, he told me this: “Helen, I’m really not trying to be mean when I say this but…you’re kind of selfish.”

WHAT?! Well, you can imagine how that conversation went.

“Whatever Andrew! I am the most giving person ever! I would give you the shirt off my back!” To which he responded, “Yes Helen you would, but you wouldn’t pause to ask me why I needed your shirt in the first place.”

Touché.

He then went on to ask me if I knew what was going on in my best friends’ lives and then to tell me (as nicely as he could) that I tended to make life about myself. [Splendid.] Finally, he ended with, “But to be fully honest, I’m also wanting to grow in my relationship with God right now and I think you do too…and in order to do that I think we need to be alone.”

Initially, I left that conversation angry, but after letting it all sink in, I realized he was right. I had been self-focused and never even realized it. That same day I bought my first prayer journal and started talking to God again, not for Andrew, but to get back in touch with my Heavenly Father. I started contacting my friends and asking more questions than I gave answers. I began to see my relationships improve, and I saw the first glimpses of the girl I was meant to be.

One Final Try

After reconnecting, Andrew proved to still be straightforward when sent me a text that read, “Helen, what are you wanting from this?” I answered with a simple, “I’d like to get to know you again.” To which he responded, “I’d like that too.” (Which he later admitted was sent after several silent fist pumps alone in his room. Lol.)

Then one night when we first started talking again, Andrew brought up his concerns about not wanting to rush things by talking every day so we wouldn’t get hurt if it didn’t work out. I appreciated his concern but knew it was rooted in his fear that, hidden away somewhere, I might still be that needy girl desperate for a guy to make me happy. In response to his caution, I smiled and said, “Andrew, I’ve gone through things I never imagined I would have to go through. I’ve faced my worst fear and I’ve survived. I’m stronger than I ever knew. And I mean this in the kindest way possible, but I don’t need you. I’d love to be with you, but I don’t need you. If this didn’t work out, I’d be ok. If I were to never date seriously or get married again, I’d be alright. God is with me and I no longer look to you or anyone else to be my source of happiness.” To that, he said, “Wow. You really are different. That’s all I needed to hear.”

We decided that I would come home for a weekend (he lives in the city right next to our hometown) and we would get to know each other again as friends…just to make sure before moving forward. At the end of the weekend, I remember telling my mom as we ate breakfast together that I knew God had orchestrated all of this. He brought Andrew into my life such a long time ago for this moment. I told her I believe God connects all the pieces of our life, and he knew Andrew would be strong enough to love a widow.

Soon after Andrew asked my dad for my hand in marriage, and I asked for Randy and Julie’s blessing. Andrew and I decided as two 29-year-olds who’ve known each other for 12 years, we didn’t want to wait months to prep for a huge wedding, and decided to get married on our own. No distractions. No comparisons. No publicity. Just God, each other, and the love of our families. We then decided to hold a big reception honoring our marriage as an alternative for an untraditional bride, and to celebrate what a great miracle God had done in our lives.

I know a lot of people questioned my reasoning as to why I didn’t post anything or even introduce Andrew into my social media until after the wedding. I know that probably made the announcement seem sudden, or even questionable. But to tell you the truth, it took me this long to release the fear of what the world might say. I knew for sure that this was the path I wanted to take, but I wanted everyone on board with me. I wanted all of you to know that I have so many things I want to share and truth I want to speak that isn’t based on my decision to remarry. I didn’t want to be judged harshly for taking a step into a new chapter of life. And so here I want to pause for a moment and say thank you. Thank you to all those who have reached out and congratulated me. Thank you for encouraging me to keep writing, keep speaking. Your love and affirmation have made my heart so full.

 Take-Aways

Sometimes things don’t go the way we expect [and most of the time they won’t], but even so, we can still be sure of these three things:

  1. Releasing unwarranted expectations for others, as well as unwarranted expectations people have for us allows our hearts to experience true freedom.
  2. Embrace expectations that cultivate personal growth within you, but also give yourself the freedom to reject ones that don’t.
  3. We can trust that God knows what He’s doing and His timing is always perfect.

My prayer for you today is that whatever you’re experiencing, have experienced, or will experience, you’ll be able to trust God through the process. I want my story to show you that even when my life didn’t go as expected and things went terribly wrong, God still had a plan for my provision already mapped out. I promise He loves you the same and will do the same for you. Learn to love Him with all you’ve got, no matter what, and I promise He’ll show up.

I hope my story has touched your heart and lifted your spirits. I CANNOT WAIT for next week to share the last blog in the series!! I’ll be taking a backseat and letting a special guest share their story and the lessons they’ve learned. Can you guess who it is??

Believe me, you won’t want to miss it!

Love you all so much, thank you for your support and encouragement as I share my personal stories. Prayers going up for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

[Enjoy the pictures below!!]

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Navigating Widowhood to Remarriage Part I: God Connects the Pieces

Throughout my life, I have come to be sure of several key characteristics of God. He has proven Himself to be not only the ultimate author of THE most amazing real-life stories, but also a God of redeeming love, healing, restoration, hope, and provision.

How has He shown me these characteristics, you ask? [Oh, I’m so glad you did.]

The first proof of His goodness came before I was born. Before I could talk He began writing the most interesting and unbelievable story for my life. Full of heartache and joy, ups and downs, mistakes and redeeming moments. All which kicked off at the age of two with my adoption, the point at which he gave me a chance for an amazing life with wonderful parents. Parents who introduced me to Christ, and gave me every opportunity they possibly could.

I can’t wait to share that story with you another time, because it truly is beautiful. Today, however, I want to focus on two other moments in which God gave me a glimpse of His provision.

 A Revelation from Widowhood

God’s Story is so intricate that we may never see how everything fits together, but I can tell you this: Every good and tragic thing has a purpose because God connects every piece of our story together for our good. And what a blessing it is when we get even just a glimpse of how a few small pieces of it fit together.

Losing your spouse at any age is more than heartbreaking. You feel like you’ve been ripped in half. I’m not the knower of all things, but maybe it feels that way because part of our very identity has been taken away. The Bible tells us that through marriage, we become one with our spouse. So it makes sense that when I lost Craig, it felt like part of myself had gone missing. One of the hardest parts about widowhood was relearning who “Helen Elizabeth” was again. Not Helen Elizabeth the Wife. Not even Helen Elizabeth the Widow. But who was “Helen Elizabeth” in Christ, without the labels?

This is where I found my first glimpse of God connecting pieces of his story. This time it was not only my story, but also Julie Strickland’s, Craig’s stepmother.

I will never forget sitting in the police department in Ponca City, OK, waiting to begin our search for Craig. I had found a place to sit by myself over by the restrooms and water fountains. Julie came over and sat with me, and after a moment she said, I never knew why I lost my husband at such a young age…but now I realize it was so I could help you. So I could help Randy. So I could help this family in their greatest time of need.

Yes. God is a God of provision.

It is such a special moment when we have the opportunity to see how God is working together for our good. In a time when I didn’t know how to work out my latest identity crises, I had someone who had walked this path before me. In the days/months/years to come, I was going to need guidance and someone who would “tell it to me straight” without beating around the bushes…and the Lord knew I’d get that with Julie.

Making the Decision to Remarry

Nothing about making the decision to date again and/or get remarried is easy. No part of introducing a new person into your life and to all those watching your life is easy. It’s messy. And quite frankly [excuse my language] it just sucks. But at some point, you have to put it out there and let it be awkward (as Julie wisely informed me). The good news is if we ask God to help us along the way, He’ll make a way for us…because when God’s writing your story, you know it’s gonna be good.

Looking back on my widowhood, I’ll be real with you, I didn’t do hardly anything the way I would do it if “today Helen” could go back and help “newly widowed Helen”. I struggled with communicating, making friends and family feel left out of my life. I struggled with laziness, not allowing God to use me fully. But through every confusing emotion, one thing stood. God was present. And he was making a way for me long before I ever lost my husband. Long before I ever knew Craig, and long before I knew what I wanted to do with this life.

Let me take you back to Junior year of High School, during cheer tryouts at a new school, and a chance encounter that would greatly impact my life.

A Chance Encounter

March 2005

(Yes, that means I’m currently about to be 30, I’ll save you the time and energy of having to do the math. Math = Gross.)

As I stood in a gym I’d never been to before, watching girls I’d never met practice cheer moves, I laughed to myself as I observed teenage boys making as much noise as possible. They were practicing baseball on the other side of the gym, doing anything they could to snag a glance from this very stressed group of practicing cheerleaders. The girls were about to try out for next years cheer squad, and so was I. No one from the school I currently attended, and cheered at, knew I was trying out or was planning to transfer schools. I had made the decision on my own, going against my parent’s wishes for me.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I chose to transfer as a senior. Ya. The guy at the school district head office, who steadily refused to grant my “transfer to a school I wasn’t zoned for” request, wanted to know the same thing. To be honest, it was for two reasons. I wanted to get to know some people I hadn’t grown up with before we all went off to college. And on a more personal level, the previous year I lost a close friend that went to the same school I wanted to go to. I wanted to be with her sister and our mutual friends. Well, after a week of sitting outside his office, the head guy of transfers finally caved. And that’s how I ended up at my new school, trying out while knowing almost no one, and being happy as a clam.

Back to try out day…

As I walked to my car after tryouts, I heard someone pull up behind me. I turned around to find a guy yelling my name out the window of his friend’s red pick up truck. This very sure of himself Ricky-rando, who would later become a good friend of mine named Johnny (he sadly passed away recently, which actually makes this a sweet memory of our friendship to look back on), started asking me very detailed questions about my yellow mustang [my dream car I absolutely loved and referred to as “Stella”]. And after listening with an “I’m not impressed” face for a moment, I finally told him in my nicest matter-of-fact tone that it was “not a GT because my dad didn’t want me driving that fast, but it has a “pony pack” on it so it looks like one.” You see, I had a boyfriend that I was for sure going to marry because I was in 11th grade and grown and all that. So I didn’t need to be talking to this guy trying to make small talk. I quickly ended the conversation, but before giving my most polite ponytail flip and getting in my car…I happened to catch a glimpse of the guy in the front seat laughing at his friend’s failed pick-up line attempt. We made eye contact for a second and I couldn’t help my stop for a moment. There was something about him, but I hurriedly reminded myself that I “was in far too serious” of a relationship to be concerning myself with that.

Well, the end of the year went by in a blink, as time typically does when it’s springtime, you can drive, and have hardly any responsibilities but making your grades. I ended up making cheer at my soon-to-be new school and started hanging out with the girls and guys I saw in the gym that day at tryouts.

Have you ever had a summer that was your absolute favorite summer ever? Like “Phineas and Ferb ‘Best Summer Ever'” kind of summer? Well, that particular summer was my favorite ever. Hanging out at my new friends’ houses, playing Wiffle ball, feeling the heartache of a first real breakup, and other twists and turns along the way that would probably make for a pretty good pre-teen TV series. But the most exciting part of that summer was one person. Yep. The guy in the front seat of that red pick up truck…Andrew Peters – my now husband.

You may be asking, did I know then that I had met my future husband? Did I know he would marry me two and half years after the loss of my husband, Craig, giving me another hope for a family and future?  Did I know that he would pray and ask Craig to lead me back to him if Craig saw him worthy to take care of me? Not at all…but God did.

To wrap up Part I of a three-part blog series, I want you to know that I firmly believe God was already working out a plan for my life the day I met Andrew. He was already formulating a story of provision, redeeming love and hope for Andrew, Craig and myself. God knew the storms I would face in the future and was already making a way for me.

Even in the hardest moments of life, we can trust that God will provide for us. We may have to wait and be patient, but He will bring beauty from ashes if we will trust Him.

Andrew and I didn’t work out the first time [or even the second or third time we tried to seriously date in college, ha!], and I never really knew why we didn’t. The only reason we’ve come up with was that we both needed to grow in our relationship with God – which is a very valid reason. But still, I had a few questions I needed to work through with God. So one day I sat down and asked Him, “Why do things have to be so hard, God? Why allow us to experience such hardship? Why do we have to suffer?”

God then reminded me: “Helen, think of all the people Craig’s story has helped. All the people who have given their lives to Christ. The impact you and the Strickland family have had for my Kingdom goes far beyond you just having a perfect life. Instead, you now have a story that shows my love for you and that can help lead others to find healing in Christ.”

The truth of that statement stopped me in my tracks. Even today, after writing that last paragraph, I thought about the woman I used to be compared to the woman I am today. Even with all the suffering, mistakes, and heartache, I’d take the woman I am today over the former because this woman is becoming more like the person God created her to be. If everything always went perfectly, I don’t know if I would ever have had a real relationship with God. By no means am I doing everything right these days, but I truly am proud of the woman God is creating within me and the strength I’ve found in Him.

I know now that every hard and painful moment I’ve experienced has allowed me the opportunity to find strength in my weakness through Christ Jesus, as well as help others do the same. I believe you can be that person for the people around you too. Our God is a God of Provision. Allow Him to show you how He’s been connecting both the joyful and the heartbreaking parts of your story for your good, and the good of others. Then allow Him to strengthen you from the inside out and use your story for His Kingdom. It will be well worth it, my friend.

Prayers going up for you as always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

(And for your laughter and enjoyment…a slideshow with a few photos from high school, college, and our engagement shoot! Side Note: Andrew really tried to get me to include two horrendous pictures of me from high school, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, ha!)

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Lessons from a Daniel Fast: A Personal Experience

Hi Friends!

Thank you so much for stopping by to check out my thoughts on my recent 7 – Day Daniel Fast! In this vlog, I’ll go over (1) what a Daniel Fast is, (2) why I choose to fast from time to time, (3) why you might want to try it, and finally…(3) what I learned from doing it.

If you feel like your in a rut with your faith or lacking answers for personal life decisions, or if you’ve never considered a fast…then I hope you’ll watch this vlog with an open mind! It might just help you answer some questions in your own life!

Praying my words can speak to you. Know that I’m praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

[“Fearless is She Who Believes” Shirt: http://www.shopwritten.com]

Two Years a Widow: Part II

“What I learned from Craig”

In the time that I had with Craig, I learned more things than I can write in a single blog. For those who knew Craig, they knew him as a charismatic, dream chasing, God loving man with an unhealthy love for creating uncomfortable situations [ask any of his friends…Craig loved embarrassing them however he could).

As his wife, I got to see so many dynamic sides to Craig that I feel very privileged to have experienced. We had great times, and we had difficult times. Just like any marriage. But through it all, I can say this, Craig’s life impacted me in several significant ways that forever changed my outlook on life.

For lack of time and the average person’s attention span, I will just list three perspective changing lessons I learned from Craig:

  1. The importance of relationships.
  2. Do everything as if you we are doing it for God.
  3. We should never live in a spirit of fear.

“I’ve come to realize that relationships are the only things we can take with us to Heaven.” – Craig Strickland

The first of these lessons is associated with my all-time favorite Craig quote (see above) from our first date when he asked me to share my testimony with him. I was so scared to reveal my story about how I found God, but I felt comforted by the way in which he asked me to do so. I remember him looking at me and saying, “I’ve come to realize that relationships are the only things we can take with us to Heaven. So would you mind sharing your testimony, and I shared mine?”

That may seem like a pretty forward question on a first date, but if you knew Craig, then you also knew that no question was too forward for him to ask [even on a first date]. But yes, at the time it seemed a little scary to me too…until I started to understand what he was really asking me in posing this question. Craig wanted to know that I was going to go to Heaven where relationships with loved ones never end. He cared about that more than anything else. In his eyes, my relationship with Christ was the most important relationship he needed to be solidified before we could move further. And to be completely honest, in that moment I don’t think he was as focused on us being “equally yoked” – [because he probably knew he could convince me to want a relationship with Christ if I didn’t already have one – Craig was very convincing] – as he was concerned with wanting to know for sure that he was going to see me forever in Heaven.

Craig loved making relationships no matter your age, how much money you had, or what happened in your past. That’s why I believe he could connect with all kinds of people at his concerts. He loved meeting people. And more importantly, he loved knowing that in Heaven, every single friend he would ever make would be there with him celebrating.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:23-24

Lessons two and three somewhat blend together. Craig often told me he believed God must give us our gifts/talents for a reason because God knew they would most likely dictate our goals and dreams in this life. Craig also told me that he believed if we felt called to work toward a particular goal or dream, such as a career, then we should give 100% effort towards trying to achieve it – no matter what anyone else said about it. And believe me, that’s exactly what Craig did. He gave 110% when it came to chasing after the goals and dreams he had for his life. And he definitely wasn’t going to stop no matter what other people might say about it. If he felt called to it, then he was going to go for it until God gave him a definite no.

In fact, when I first met Craig it was his passion and dedication to achieving [what he felt was] his calling that truly captivated me.  I remember how hard he worked to make things happen with his band in the country music scene…even if no one else was watching. There were many times no one knew all the work he was doing and all the hours he put in, but he did it anyway. Watching him made me realize if we’re passionate about something we feel God called us to, then it’s our job to give our best effort even if God is the only one who sees it. Because at the end of the day, our efforts aren’t for man, they are for God. And furthermore, I see now that we are all stewards of the gifts God gives us…and that means we must be willing to put in the groundwork to sharpen those gifts for the moment when God calls us to action.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

The other day a close friend of mine and I were talking about our dreams and the goals we have for the future, and how those dreams weren’t necessarily cookie cutter. Meaning, our dream professions are probably not at the top of the usual “what I want to be when I grow up” list. The conversation then led us to discuss how our “outside-the-box” dreams often made us feel nervous to give 100% in trying to achieve them.

“What do people think when we tell them?” Or worse, “What will they say if we don’t succeed?’

And that’s when I had another revelation about Craig’s impact on my life.

Craig did not live with a spirit of fear. He believed in boldness and courage. Especially when it comes to chasing a goal or a dream that God brought into your path. Yes, he knew it might be difficult to achieve. And yes, he knew he might fail. But being scared to fail wasn’t how Craig lived. Instead, he trusted that it would happen, he prayed boldly that it would be God’s will, and then worked hard to achieve it. If it didn’t happen, then he knew God would direct his path elsewhere. Because while there is often a time for waiting, listening, and growing…there is also a season for having the courage to take action and trust God when we feel Him moving us.

—–

I want my heart to learn and hold onto these lessons from Craig’s life.

I want to see people as the relationships I get to take with me to Heaven. Not just as friends I might grab a cup of coffee with. I want to pour into others, and have others pour into me. Lifting each other up continuously.

I want to be bold in my faith and how I speak about it. I want to trust the words I read in my Bible. I want to give 100% effort in all my works. Doing everything I do to the best of my ability because I’m not doing it for man – I’m doing it for the Lord.

And finally, I never want to live housing a spirit of fear in my heart. Christ is always with me, and I am always with Christ. Therefore, I will house a spirit of courage grounded in my faith in Christ.

Dear friends, my prayer for you today is that you might learn the same lessons from the life that Craig lived. We can all do better about making Christ the center of our relationships, making sure that everyone in our life is given the opportunity to live an eternal life with us in Heaven. And it if you’re anything like me, releasing our spirit of fear and replacing it with a spirit of courage through faith is going to be an ongoing process. But in order to work towards that goal, let us both promise each other the following: if we believe God has called us to something, instead of holding back out of fear, let us pray boldly and give it all we have. Trusting that God will be there every step of the way.

Praying for you today and always,

Helen Elizabeth

 

Two Years a Widow: Part I

“What I’ve Learned from Widowhood”

It’s almost unbelievable that it’s been two years since my late husband, Craig Strickland, and his friend, Chase Moreland, passed away in a tragic hunting accident at the end of December. From Dec. 26th to January 12th, each day serves as mile markers that bring about strong feelings and memories.

Dec. 26th: The day Craig left. We laughed as we made up Christmas songs about my cat Salem, and watched the new trailer for the new “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Harry Potter Movie.

Dec. 27th: I wrote in my prayer journal and asked that God would grow us closer than we’d ever been before this year…and I told Him that I would choose to love Him even if He took everything away – including my husband. This was the day Craig’s father, Randy, and I realized something wasn’t right. This was also the day Craig would have already gone to be with his Heavenly Father.

Dec. 28th: A long icy drive to Ponca City, OK to look for Craig. The realization of fear during a phone conversation with the pastor of my church, Nick Floyd. Nick: “Is it really as bad as it sounds?”; Me: “Yes, it is.” Sam, Craig’s Hunting Dog, was found with a boat and a body. I had to serve as a second identifier for Chase’s body.

Dec. 29th: Friends and Family came to help search. I remember looking out at the icy Kaw Lake Water silently begging Craig to come back. Candle Light Prayers were held by friends and family at CrossChurch (my church)/Shiloh (the school I used to teach at).

Dec. 31st: New Years with my friends in my hotel room. Feeling true thankfulness for them. Pushing away the thought that I wouldn’t see my husband in this new year. Wondering why we had waited to have kids. The first time I quietly pleaded with God to not make this my life.

Jan. 4th: The day we found Craig. I’ll wait to write more about this in my upcoming book.

Between Jan. 5th – 11th: Preparing for Craig’s burial. Emotional. Exhausting. Surreal to be picking out a headstone, resting place, burial clothes, and content of a memorial service.

Jan. 12th: The day I buried my husband…

I’ll write more about January 12th in my book; but for now, I will say that January 12th was the hardest part of the whole experience. It made it real. Seeing his casket at the front of a beautiful chapel full of people…my whole resolve was shaken. It was the first time that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to control myself in front of people. Not that a widow has to, but for some reason, being around people made me want to comfort them during that season. Not because I had to, but God just made me that way I guess. I tend to not break down in front of people, and be a little more private with my grieving. It helps me to help others feel better in difficult moments.

I remember Pastor Nick coming in my waiting room to ask if I was ready.

With every step towards my husband’s casket, I saw the dreams I had for my life fading. And the reality of my life became a lump in my throat that started to harden like a rock.

I remember attending the memorial service that night and making the mental and heartfelt commitment to praise God even now. I would raise my hands to every worship song as I do in church when I praise His name. Because my God is my God in this tragic moment, as He’s my God in the easiest of moments. And I will tell you, raising my hands to praise my Heavenly Father as a grieving widow with a broken heart, was definitely the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” -1Thessalonians 5:18

Two years later, I sit and reflect on that day. There is so much to tell. So many thoughts and memories to share. People to thank. But today, I’ve decided I want to talk about a new mile marker.

The day I was able to look back over a course of two years and thank…No… PRAISE God, for the life I’ve been given, and the lessons I’ve learned.

I prayed so many times that this wouldn’t be my life. I asked God to take this cup away from me. I cried out to God and asked Him why he was being silent. But today I’m grateful for not only the beautiful memories I have of my late husband that I can always cherish, but also, the wisdom and the strength I now have due to my daily fight to choose to love God through my circumstances. And I’m even more thankful that I can share with you, what I’ve gleaned from pushing through the worst storm of my life.

“I yelled in the wind. He came rolling back to sweep me off my feet. I cried to the rain. He came pouring down to drown my disbelief.” – God, Relient K

So after reflecting, what lessons have I learned? Well to start, here’s a brief brainstorming list of the first things that came to my head, without a filter. I’m giving myself 2 minutes to list this for you…starting now.

  1. The importance of a strong prayer life.
  2. To appreciate the people around me.
  3. To give up control, as well as ownership over things.
  4. To not rush into things or make major decisions during the first year.
  5. To realize people won’t ever fully understand what I’m going through.
  6. God will understand what I’m going through.
  7. To not expect people to remember that being a widow might hinder me from doing things to the best of my ability even a year after my loss.
  8. To not use being a widow as a crutch. To take ownership of the demands of life and ask God for the strength to push forward and get things done.
  9. The importance of praising God in all circumstances.
  10. Solitude is sometimes necessary. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude when I’m spending my time alone with God.
  11. To show gratefulness to the people around me.
  12. To have courage.
  13. To do everything like I’m doing it for God, not for man.
  14. To pray boldly.
  15. That friends and family are the greatest blessings God can give us in this life.
  16. To always have a humble and thankful heart.

There are hundreds more, but those are the first that come to mind in 2 minutes. And I just want to say, I’ve not done any of those 16 bullet points perfectly. I say lessons because they were exactly that. Lessons I needed to learn. As many of you probably know, going through any difficult experience is a process. Grief is a process. It will hit you in strange ways at different times. Counseling is a great option that I recommend for everyone going through a difficult experience. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: YOU NEED GOD.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – Colossians 4:2

God is the only way we can walk through tragic events and come out on the other side a stronger person. God gives us the strength to see the joy that can be found in every day. He’s the only way I was able to make it out of my [excuse my French] Hell Hole alive. And to answer the question that was asked so many times on my social media posts…He’s why I could smile in the pictures I posted during the search for my husband.

How did God do that for me, you ask?

Well friend, I truly believe there is beauty to be found in every moment. But the only way we can see that beauty is if we allow God to cultivate within us, a grateful heart. I’m not the expert on life and happiness, but from my experience – that’s how I did it.

Even during the search for and burial of my late husband Craig, my heart was bursting with love and thankfulness for the people all around me. My friends who were there giving up their time off work to be there for me. A close family friend coming to search with their boat. The President of my School, and my best friends from work driving 4 hours just to hug my neck and turn around. Volunteer search dogs. Support from the people of Ponca City. Gifts from friends from home and all over. People all around the world praying for our search. I could go on and on…

Sitting here thinking of all the people who loved me and helped our family, I am still humbled with gratitude and find myself wishing I could individually thank each person who took the time to help and pray for our family. Everything that everyone did during those first few weeks, and after, was the love of Christ being shown through His people. I couldn’t help but see the love of God in the situation I was in.

Now I realize that my situation may be different than yours. Maybe it seems like no one cares. But friend, there’s always a reason to be thankful. There’s always a reason to praise God. I was talking to a relative of mine the other day, and we started discussing the topic of thankfulness and how it has such a major impact on our relationship with Christ.

I told my relative, “Sometimes I get down driving home at night to an empty house. Knowing my friends have husbands and kids to go home to, and I don’t. But that’s when I have to take those thoughts captive. It’s ok to be sad sometimes – in fact, it’s necessary when we’re grieving, but I refuse to let grief control or consume me for long periods of time. I believe there’s a point that I have to speak God’s truth to my soul to remember life isn’t perfect, but with Christ, it can be beautiful again. Therefore, when my thoughts want to go down that dark tunnel, I remember one important thing. To be thankful. If I’m sad, I make myself think of the smallest, most off-the-wall, seemingly insignificant blessing I can think of that I’ve probably never stopped to thank God for…and then I stop and meditate on that. I think what life would be like if I had to do without whatever it is I’m choosing to be thankful for. For example…one day, I reminded myself to be thankful that I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I contemplated how difficult many of the activities I like to do would be if I didn’t, and I immediately thanked God that he allowed me to not have to worry about those things.”

“I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” – Psalm 34:1

In saying that, I don’t mean we should just list out all the things we’re thankful we have that other people might not have, instead it’s simply taking on a mindset of acknowledging every blessing we’ve been given. In my experience, a thankful heart is a peaceful heart.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.” – Psalm 28:7

Dear friend, whatever you’re experiencing, I realize it might be hard to be thankful right now. But my prayer is that you will read my story and see that you can find joy again with the help of Christ. I pray you would trust that God can bring hope and happiness to your life no matter your circumstances…He’s the only one who can.

Praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

{Wednesday, January 17th, I am posting another Blog concerning the lessons I learned from Craig. Hope my words today, and in the future will encourage your heart.}

The Beauty of Not Comparing

Hello Friend!

As always I’m sitting in my desk chair writing away thinking about everything I want to share with you. All the conversations I’d love to have about life and God and all the mess in between. And I finally had one particular conversation lay heavy on my heart. Comparing ourselves to others.

Is it just me, or have you noticed a growing number of people (including ourselves) seemingly unhappy with their lives and feeling overwhelmingly depressed because of it? You may have felt this way or have heard it from your friends and/or family. And we both know we see it in the media with all the heartbreaking stories of hurting people.

Goodness, it truly hurts my heart to see so many people struggling to enjoy life. And I’m not saying this because I somehow have a perfect life and I feel bad for those who don’t. No, it burdens me because I know how it feels to not be happy with the person I’ve been, or the role I’ve been given, or with life in general, and I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way.

Because no one wants to stay in that hole forever, right? I know I didn’t. But getting out of it takes work. And it takes work to stay out of it when those same feelings try to creep back into our hearts and take away the joy God has for us.

So after reflecting on why I [or we] sometimes feel depressed/unhappy with our lives, I found that – just like everything else – it comes down to an issue of the heart. In this case, it’s an issue of comparing which leads to coveting.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17

Now while it’s probably safe to say that we don’t have an issue with coveting someone else’s livestock, we can very easily find ourselves coveting in a different way. By way of comparing.

From time-to-time, we may catch ourselves comparing ourselves to someone else’s life [relationship…body…job…you name it] wondering things like: “Does my life stack up to theirs?”; or, “They seem like they’re always happy on social media, and since Instagram is obviously an accurate representation of people’s lives, why am I not as happy? What do they have that I don’t?”

Comparing our lives to another’s is, in my opinion, one of the slipperiest slopes we can find ourselves snowballing down. When we constantly compare ourselves to the people around us, we can unintentionally find ourselves strolling down a path of discontent, wanting things we don’t need, and numbing us from seeing the many blessings we already have…and then, somewhere along the way, we forget that nothing in this world, outside of a real relationship with Christ, will ever truly make us happy. And the truth is – it’s not supposed to. Comparisons focus our attention on the things of this earth, rather than on the things above it.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

But it’s hard to focus on the things above us, right? There are people all around us seemingly happy. They have the things we think we want…but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves, “Why do we feel the need to have these things? What if they’re not right for me, and God knows better than I do?”

If we’re honest with ourselves, do you think it might be because we secretly think if we had those other things, we would fit in better, or maybe we would “matter” more to the people around us? Yes, if we’re being honest, we all have the desire to matter. Which does not make us bad people. The problem arises when we become consumed with trying to fit in and chasing the feeling of “mattering”. Because if we’re constantly chasing the approval of others, how much effort are we putting towards chasing the approval of the only One who matters?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man. I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to feel accepted and wanted by others. It’s a natural desire for us as humans. And I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I like being liked, and I also try to act as if I have it all together (which I don’t, by the way). I don’t think that makes me a bad person. The point that I believe it has a negative impact on my heart and perspective is when my desire to be accepted drives me to compare myself to what I think “I should be”, and then I struggle because I know I’ll never be able to achieve that perfect version of myself.

So how do we overcome this? How can we find the beauty in not comparing?

The only way I was able to let go of the desire to “be more like that person”, was to realize that in comparing myself to others, I was disregarding God’s workmanship. It a roundabout way, I was letting a lie fester in my heart…A lie that said, “God, if I just had this other thing then I’ll finally be happy.” This lie can cause our hearts to harden, and miss how we’ve already been blessed.

So coming back to the perspective of this being a heart issue. Comparing and coveting means that our eyes are set on something else, and if our eyes are always set on “something else”, how can our eyes ever be totally set on God?

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind, and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

So to conclude…several years ago when I was getting back into my faith, there was a story in the Bible that stood out to me concerning a wealthy man coming to Jesus to ask how he can enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:17-31). What I see in this interaction, is a man wanting to find joy in Christ, but his heart was focused on the things of man. Therefore, when Jesus tells him he has to give up the things of man to truly have a heart for God, the man was upset. You see, he wasn’t willing to give up everything to bear his cross for the sake of Christ. And after reading this story, I realized I honestly wasn’t either. And in that moment I had a life-changing thought:

Maybe there’s something to be said about being willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ…because if we expect nothing, we are thankful for all things.

I’m not saying we can’t have nice things, or that in order to truly love Christ we have to give everything away. But what I am saying is this…When we can let go of the things of this life, and embrace having nothing but a true relationship with God, we will then find beauty in the life we’ve been given – no matter how our lives look at the current moment. In other words, when the expectation for perfection is gone, a heart truly content in Christ is revealed. And when we are content in Christ, we can find joy and peace we’ve been looking for that goes beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7).

And so today, whatever comparisons we’ve been holding on to, let’s both choose to release them. Let us not covet the world around us, but instead, find the beauty in not comparing. 

Thank you so much friend for taking the time to read this today! I’m praying that I spoke to your heart and helped you grow closer to our Heavenly Father.

Praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth